This is one of the most interesting moments of the 2019-20 girls basketball season.
There is enough data for any observer to have a gut feeling about teams. There’s also so much time ahead for any team to evolve. Or flounder. Perhaps both.
Here’s a look at some of the mesmerizing teams as of Friday morning, Dec. 13.
>> Who are these Royals?
Hanalani has, maybe, as much talent assembled in their cozy, air-conditioned gym as any Division II program in the state. According to the reported results, the purple and gold are 4-1 overall after a 29-point rout of Damien (another purple-and-gold team). In long, tall sophomore Lishae Scanlan, Hanalani has one of the most promising sophomore players in the islands. Long-range marksman Keila Tsutsui graduated, but there is plenty of scoring with Scanlan, Maria Ralar, Faith Mersburg and Tatem Foster. They have wiped out other D-II teams by margins of 23 and 26 points. Then they went to the Valley Isle and lost to King Kekaulike by 21 points last weekend.
The dream path would be for Hanalani to qualify again for the state tourney, go further than last year’s team, which lost in the semifinals to Seabury Hall 55-43, and win the title. Scanlan is college-potential good, so it would be interesting to see if she remains loyal to the Royals, or eventually leaves. That’s what Sarah Liva did before senior year, playing volleyball and basketball at nearby — and Division I — Mililani. That propelled her to a college career, but who knows whether the same would’ve happened if she had stayed at D-II Hanalani?
The extreme route would be for Hanalani to eventually ascend to D-I in the ILH. It would be astoundingly tough. Unlike years past, there is really no other league today that matches ILH D-I in terms of quality and depth. ILH D-II in itself is very competitive. It’s debatable whether the top four teams of OIA D-I are better than the top four of ILH D-II.
For now, Hanalani has D-II defending state champ Hawaii Baptist on the schedule. Their showdown on Saturday morning at the Royals’ gym will help set the tone for the ILH D-I chase.
>> Wherefore art thou, Waimea?
From all accessible information, the Menehunes (this is how and what they call themselves) did not play a single preseason game. They opened the KIF season with a 31-point rout of Kapaa. Then, last weekend, they lost at home to Kauai, 67-66. Waimea won the KIF last season with a group of mostly underclassmen. Blew out Hawaii Prep by 39 in the D-II state tourney, then lost to HBA 56-47 in the semifinals. (Waimea went on to place third after beating Hanalani.)
Guard Kaye Serapio made the Star-Advertiser All-State Fab 15. The returning roster is stacked. But losing at home to a Kauai squad that traveled to Oahu in preseason is telling. Kauai handled Kalaheo and La Pietra by very wide margins, and lost to D-II Sacred Hearts 51-40 at the Lancers’ gym. The Red Raiders also lost during that trip at HBA, 48-35.
How much do four games of non-league play help? For Kauai, it’s a definite difference-maker. The KIF slate is always tough, having to play the same two (sometimes three) opponents again. And again. And again. Maybe it will all be enough for Waimea to evolve and repeat. Or maybe Kauai has been ignited and is on a path to a deep run at states.
What is certain is this: Kauai (4-2, 2-0) is hungry.
>> Is it King or not King?
Historians differ on whether King Kekaulike was actually a king. It appears that he may have been. The school was named after him, and unless that changes within the system, it is King Kekaulike.
The MIL has a straightforward format, separating D-I and D-II teams during the regular season and playoffs. Simple. It also leads to a lot of “what if” bubble thoughts. Example: Seabury Hall, currently ranked No. 10, knocked off the aforementioned Eagles of HBA on Oahu during nonconference play. But the Spartans also lost to D-I Maui, 42-37, during tournament play on Lanai last week.
Shocking, no. Seabury Hall has five solid returnees and three new players. New as in, new to playing organized basketball. So, in theory and fact, Maui is good enough to beat a Seabury Hall squad that is still figuring things out.
When King Kekaulike blew out Maui 63-42 more than a week ago, it was before Maui beat Seabury Hall. So it all coalesces a bit now. King Kekaulike is 10-0, including a 53-32 win over Hanalani. Na Alii have two narrow wins: Leilehua (36-33) and Kapolei (30-29) at King Kekaulike’s preseason tournament. There are blowout wins over Kailua and Nanakuli, too. None of the wins came against ranked teams.
Seabury Hall (7-2, 0-0 MIL D-II) is still ranked despite the loss to Maui, which either means Maui is underrated, or perhaps King Kekaulike is the second-best team in the MIL. Maybe the very best? King Kekaulike gets its shot at the dynastic Lady Lunas of Lahainaluna on Tuesday when the teams meet at the Lahaina Civic. Common opponents don’t tell the full story, often times, but the format of the MIL means that King Kekaulike and Seabury Hall will not meet again this season unless they schedule a nonconference game.
It wouldn’t be preposterous. Both campuses are upcountry, Seabury Hall in Olinda, King Kekaulike in Pukalani. That’s basically a 15-minute drive, or less.
Lahainaluna (2-4, 2-0 MIL) rolled Maui 59-33 over the weekend, setting up more excitement for the showdown with King Kekaulike. After four rough losses on Oahu to Top 10 competition, the Lady Lunas are back to their winning ways. The streak in MIL play is now 165 wins in a row. If King Kekaulike keeps it close or even upsets the Lunas, there might be some clamoring for a long-awaited Lunas-Spartans clash.
Why not? It’s been a long time since two teams from the MIL were ranked in the Top 10. If King Kekaulike makes a statement, there might be an argument for three MIL teams in the weekly poll. If Na Alii get walloped like Maui did — the Sabers played at home in the loss to the Lunas — it might be a long while before voters reset their radar screens.
There is also this possibility: A Lunas loss might trigger voters to have no MIL teams on their next ballot. Even though Lahainaluna nearly beat Punahou (48-44), the only team in the state that has come remotely close to beating No. 1 ‘Iolani.
>> Red-hot Buffanblu
No team played as many preseason games as Coach Gary Pacarro’s squad. Punahou went 9-1, utilizing a deep roster in his five-in, five-out platoon system. They run and run, though they aren’t necessarily tilting the scoreboard. What Punahou (10-2, 1-1 ILH) does with its commitment to run and create chaos defensively is take opposing teams out of their comfort zones.
Case in point: Maryknoll had let its young team run and press since the graduation of its heralded, four-time ILH championship group. Last year’s team feasted with its fullcourt pressure and came so close to reaching the state tourney. The Lady Spartans are often at their best when athletic playmakers like Mahalo Akaka, Aloha Akaka and Serenity Moananu are unleashed.
But when the Spartans went to Punahou on Monday night, they opted to slow the tempo by using a 2-3 zone. It worked. Punahou scored a season-low 32 points. Only ‘Iolani had done the same to the Buffanblu (two days earlier). The visiting Spartans, who had scored at least 59 points in five of their first six games, scored a season-low 31 points in a game decided on a running bank shot by Punahou guard Caityln Andrade-Tomimoto with 6 seconds left.
Veteran coach Chico Furtado would probably do it again. Defense did the job. Offense? A lot of missed shots. Open shots. Punahou’s gritty man-to-man defense never let up. It’s natural to wonder what Maryknoll (5-2, 0-1 ILH) would do in a wide-open, run-and-gun battle with Punahou. There will be three more regular-season matchups with their neighbors. Maybe they’ll find out.
>> Intertwined Warriors, Wildcats
When Caiyle Kaupu swished a five-foot jump hook in the paint to give Konawaena a 44-43 win over Kamehameha in mid-November, the questions were only beginning. Konawaena was down to six healthy, eligible players on that day, winning on the road, on another island. Pluses all around, especially after a 19-point win over Maryknoll the day before.
Kamehameha, meanwhile, hasn’t lacked for motivational fuel since that close loss. Finding their footing in life after Kalina Obrey isn’t quite so easy. Guard Malie Marfil has a physical advantage over just about every defender who tries to guard her, including Mater Dei (Calif.). Marfil is finding her place in the offense, getting used to the usage level, becoming more aggressive in iso situations — all compelling, occasionally breathtaking.
It’s not all on Marfil, though. The Warriors have coasted past most opponents locally, but losses to ‘Iolani and Mater Dei were revealing. Mater Dei arrived in the islands early in the week and actually scouted both ‘Iolani and Kamehameha when the ILH rivals met on Monday. It was ‘Iolani that showed a pronounced willingness to shade its man defense toward Marfil and Lagi Sua-Godinet. Not quite pack line, but enough to clog the lanes.
If Kamehameha is going to compete and win a state title, it will need more than Marfil and Sua-Godinet to penetrate and finish, penetrate and create. The opportunities are there, and short of running pick-and-roll or post-ups for those two, the Warriors don’t need a horde of big scorers. Just one or two who can step up will help immensely.
When that happens, the Warriors have the formula. Their defense is among the most scrappy and physical in the state. It keeps them in games, but no defense alone can win titles.
While Kamehameha prepares for Radford on Friday, Konawaena has its hands full with a tenacious Kahuku squad. The Wildcats were in jackpot mode on Thursday, hitting seven treys in the first half against St. Mary’s (Calif.). With a shot clock in play, the Wildcats faced a busy 2-2-1 press and used skip passes to get 15 open looks from the arc, mostly from the corners and mostly by freshman Braelyn Kauhi. She hit five trifectas, all in the first half.
Senior Caiyle Kaupu wasn’t a major factor offensively in those conditions, but still finished with 13 points and seven boards against the tall lineup of St. Mary’s. The UC Irvine commit was on the post most times, but this was also an opportunity to see how she would fare off the dribble against a team full of future college players. The elements of her wing game are there. The 3-point range. The first step from the arc. But the typical wingman’s game, driving left and right, finishing with either hand, hitting pull-up mid-range jumpers and floaters, drive and kick — we haven’t seen it yet after one day of the Classic.
In the BIIF and against the rest of the state, she’s more effective in the post. It would have been very interesting to see her continue playing bigger, longer opponents. The evolution of Kaupu’s game remains in progress.