‘Iolani, Konawaena, Kamehameha head the pack, but ILH D-II rising

Kamehameha guard Malie Marfil (2) and 'Iolani forward Jovi Wahinekapu Lefotu (21) can expect a full season of battles ahead as two of the top teams in the state. Photo by Cindy Ellen Russell/Star-Advertiser.

Fluid and fast.

The girls basketball preseason is flying by. Finding nice, new gems is a hobby itself for hoop fans. Example: KVIKS TV. Apparently, Hilo High School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to media in the BIIF. Games are streamed live, as well as other announcements and events at the historic institution.

I still haven’t been in their “new” gym. Back in the day, when I came over from the west side, Hilo’s boys games were played in Hilo Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium. Classic, but not on campus. The girls may have played in the school’s small, old gym.

The KVIKS TV video shows the rest of the state a pristine new facility. I’ll get there one day.

Here’s a pupule look at favorites, contenders and hopefuls so far. Rankings sometimes can be deceiving. There are often gaps between levels, so here goes.

‘Iolani Raiders (4-0)
The Raiders are 4-0, missing score with Kaiser (Nov. 21) pending. They have beaten four opponents — Lahainaluna, Konawaena, Kahuku and Kalani — by an average of 24.8 points per game.

Strictly from an eye-test perspective, they are running in mid-season form, wearing foes out even if they only have eight players in uniform. When Alexsandra Huntimer (hip) returns, yikes. ‘Iolani is a unanimous No. 1 in the Star-Advertiser Top 10, deservedly so. ILH opener is already upon us. ‘Iolani hosts Punahou on Saturday.

Coach Dean Young and staff have built this team to operate in perpetual motion, but is unwilling to lose discipline with the ball. Jovi Wahinekapu Lefotu and Huntimer are as close as they get to consistent low-post scoring, but a lot of ILH teams will stay in man defense. Going man against the likes of Lily Lefotu Wahinekapu and Alexis Huntimer, who are premier drive-and-kick playmakers, is a tough task. Going zone against shooters like Wahinekapu, Alexis Huntimer and Kyra Tanabe is less daunting, but still a pick-your-poison scenario.

Konawaena Wildcats (5-1)
The 54-26 loss to ‘Iolani three weeks ago would normally be enough to bump any team to a lower status. However, the Wildcats also beat Punahou (57-42), Maryknoll (57-39) and Kamehameha (44-43) during that same tournament. The Wildcats did it while two players got injured.

A week later, Coach Bobbie Awa’s team beat host Hilo (42-39) and Kahuku (55-32) at the Hilo Winter Classic. Caiyle Kaupu has been everything they need inside the paint, while sophomore Kaliana Harrell Salazar is clutch. Her 3-pointer gave Konawaena the lead in the final minutes against Hilo.

Not all yokozuna go unbeaten, and Konawaena is clearly the second-best team in the state right now. They’ll fly back to Oahu next week for the the ‘Iolani Classic and meet St. Mary’s (Calif.).

Kamehameha Warriors (5-1)
The Warriors have a win over Lahainaluna (44-27) and the one-point loss to Konawaena. Between Malie Marfil and Lagi Sua-Godinet, there is enough experience and grit to battle for the ILH title, but there is also a nice complement of talent for Coach Pua Straight.

The Warriors, ranked No. 3, host defending state champion ‘Iolani next Tuesday in a rematch of last year’s instant-classic state final. Two days after that, Kamehameha meets Mater Dei (Calif.) at the ‘Iolani Classic.

Maryknoll Spartans (4-1)
The Spartans are running and gunning with a deep roster led by Aloha Akaka, Mahalo Akaka and Serenity Moananu. They have dominated all competition with the exception of Konawaena. The wins over Lahainaluna (59-27) and Kahuku (58-32) are notable, particularly the latter at the Lady Raiders’ gym. But that 57-39 loss to a depleted Konawaena squad should serve as motivational fuel for No. 4-ranked Maryknoll.

Waiakea Warriors (3-0, 1-0 BIIF)
Kelsie Imai is the top returnee for the Warriors, who posted wins over Kahuku (58-31) and Keaau (62-22) during the Hilo Winter Classic. Fifth-ranked Waiakea opened BIIF play with a 61-11 rout of Hawaii Prep on Tuesday.

Punahou Buffanblu (9-1)
The short preseason didn’t stop the Buffanblu from playing 10 nonconference games. They’re maturing rapidly under Coach Gary Pacarro, winning uptempo games and slower halfcourt battles. Tati Burciaga-Reyes gives Punahou one of the best long-range shooters in the state. Her corner 3 won it for Punahou against Kahuku (41-39).

The schedule hasn’t been heavy with Top 10 opponents, but since losing to Konawaena, the Buffanblu have beaten No. 8 Lahainaluna, Mililani (twice), Sacred Hearts and No. 10 Seabury Hall.

Hilo Vikings
The seventh-ranked Viks led Konawaena 39-36 in final two minutes when they met two weeks ago. Then they didn’t have Mindy Kawaha in a 55-47 overtime loss to Kahuku. We don’t know if Kawaha is injured, but if she is on the court, Hilo is capable of beating any team in the state.

Lahainaluna Lunas (1-4, 1-0 MIL)
After a bitterly frustrating trip to Oahu — the Lady Lunas lost to ‘Iolani (45-31), Punahou (48-44), Kamehameha (44-27) and Maryknoll (59-27) — they found refuge on Monday. No. 8-ranked Lahainaluna opened MIL play with a 68-25 road win over Baldwin, extending its league win streak to 163 games.

The big question every season is whether Coach Todd Rickard’s team can evolve and improve. For Konawaena, which has nine state titles in the past 16 seasons, there has always been Waiakea and Hilo to push them to a higher level. The senior-less Lunas haven’t that kind of pushback from MIL opponents in a long, long time. That’s why Rickard has always made sure his team travels as much as possible in preseason. In a parallel universe, the Lady Lunas play ILH teams on a weekly basis, if Rickard could have his way.

Kahuku Red Raiders (2-5)
Coach Latoya Wily has the patience it takes to ride out the storm. She’s proven this in the past and she will do it again in the present. Kahuku took on many of the state’s best programs in November, falling against ‘Iolani, Punahou, Maryknoll, Waiakea and Konawaena. An overtime win over Hilo (55-47) was a much-needed boost.

The OIA East season is already here. No. 9 Kahuku will host Kalani on Friday in the opener. Leiah Naeata will be tested physically in a point center role, similar to what Kaelyn Espinda did at Kaimuki in recent seasons. There is no dominant team in the OIA, but Kahuku comes closest to that description.

Seabury Hall Spartans (5-1)
Anau Tu‘ivai and the starting five of the Upcountry Maui school are very good, regardless of division. After that, however, it is a lab experiment of sorts for Coach Keone Labuanan. He has three brand-new players, athletes who never played basketball at Seabury Hall until this winter.

The Spartans gave Punahou a battle in the final of the Sacred Hearts Invitational. That came after a 33-29 win over D-II defending state champion Hawaii Baptist and a narrow 43-42 win over Radford. It’s unfortunate that Seabury Hall and Lahainaluna will not meet in MIL play because basketball format splits D-I from D-II. It’s astounding, really, that the best small schools on Maui and the Big Island (Konawaena) have such small rosters. It’s been the norm for years. And somehow, they remain resilient.

Mid-Pacific Owls (6-2)
The Owls have beaten some notable teams like Mililani and Radford. They have also lost to Mililani in a rematch, and have also lost to Kahuku. Coach Reid Takano has the team in a good place as the ILH D-II opener with Le Jardin nears. Madi Sagawa has been a consistent source of points for MPI.

Mililani Trojans (3-4)
The Lady Trojans got plenty of competition in preseason, losing to Punahou twice and Kamehameha. They also showed a mark of improvement, losing to Mid-Pacific in mid-November, then edging the Owls in a rematch nearly two weeks later. Coach Michael Oyama has some skilled pieces to work with as a big matchup with Radford looms on Friday in the OIA West opener.

Kaiser Cougars (3-2)
The Lady Cougars opened with blowouts wins over Leilehua (52-25) and Aiea (48-7). Then came a solid win over Punahou II, 43-28. But they came back down to earth in losses to Kamehameha (58-21) and Punahou (44-24). Taeya Blakeney is one of the veterans of this squad. The OIA is wide open, so here’s their opportunity.

Hawaii Baptist Eagles (4-2)
The Eagles are, again, one of the smaller teams physically, but also one of the toughest defensively. They lost a close game against Seabury Hall in a rematch of last season’s D-II state final, then fell against a scrappy Kalani squad. Coach Robin Yamauchi has a young team, only four seniors, but the leadership of Sasha Philip and Alexis Dang will be valuable.

Waimea Menehune (1-0, 1-0 KIF)
Last year’s big run in the D-II state tourney should propel this season’s Menehune to another level. They opened KIF play with a 75-44 win over Kapaa on Monday. Kaye Serapio and Kierstin Gummerus might be the best 1-2 combo the state won’t see until the big dance.

Roosevelt Rough Riders (6-2)
The Rough Riders won six of their first seven games, but that includes nail-biters across the ledger: a 38-34 win at Nanakuli, an 18-15 win over Kamehameha-Maui and a 23-20 victory at Pearl City. They have losses to Kamehameha-Maui and Sacred Hearts.

Coach Joseph Ho has Roosevelt on the right track, but when margins are this close, there is usually a reversion to the mean. Right now, though, all these wins, including wins over Leilehua (41-27) and Kapolei (29-19) and the experience of winning on the road (King Kekaulike tournament) are building momentum.

Radford Rams (3-2)
There is no Ta Nitra Byrd, but the Lady Rams won’t have to be quite that powerful to rule the OIA West. They were right there in close losses to good D-II teams (Mid-Pacific, Seabury Hall), and have solid wins over Kalani (30-26), Sacred Hearts (40–34) and Moanalua (57-54). Radford opens West play with Kapolei on Wednesday night.

Sacred Hearts Lancers (7-3)
Coach Richard Kasuya’s squad opened the preseason with five wins over D-II and D-III teams, then lost three in a row to D-I squads. A 26-24 loss to Mid-Pacific could be a precursor for a strong rivalry in the ILH. The Lancers completed nonconference play with wins over Punahou II (51-31) and Roosevelt (45-27). Te‘Hiwa Medeiros, Mahina Kaleiheana-Erickson and Dezaray Carter bring scoring firepower. SHA hosts D-I powerhouse Maryknoll on Saturday, then opens ILH D-II league play against University on Dec. 11.

Kamehameha-Hawaii Warriors (3-1)
The resume is nice with wins over Roosevelt, Nanakuli and Kapolei, but the loss to Kamehameha-Maui is there. Granted, the game was at the King Kekaulike tourney, practically homecourt advantage to KS-Maui.

Kamehameha-Maui Warriors (3-3)
The Warriors of Pukalani have wins over Campbell, KS-Hawaii and Kailua. They also have close losses to Leilehua (28-25) and Roosevelt (18-15), and opened MIL play with a 52-28 loss at Maui.

Maui Sabers (1-1, 1-0 MIL)
So where does this put Maui? The Sabers hosted Seabury Hall in nonconference play and lost 45-37. Not bad. On Wednesday, they travel to King Kekaulike, and next Monday, they will host Lahainaluna. Some answers to the mystery of how good this team could be will be answered.

Kauai Red Raiders (2-2)
There are many, many competitive teams at this (maegashira) level, but Kauai stands out as a team on the bubble. The Red Raiders routed Kalaheo and La Pietra at Sacred Hearts’ early Lancer Charity tourney. Kauai also lost to Sacred Hearts (51-40) and Hawaii Baptist (48-35) on the same day. The Red Raiders host Kapaa on Wednesday, then travels to Waimea on Monday.

Hanalani Royals
Missing scores here, but the Royals have wins over Kalaheo and Kapolei. They have one of the most promising sophomores in the state, Lishae Scanlan, who had 26 points, 15 rebounds and three blocks in a state semifinal loss to Seabury Hall last season. Then, a 5-10 freshman, she hit 10-for-11 at the foul line.

They open the season with Damien next Tuesday. ILH Division II will be a lot of fun to follow this season. There’s defending state champ HBA, solid teams at Mid-Pacific, Sacred Hearts and University, and Damien and Hanalani could be sneaky. There’s a case to be made that ILH D-II has as many quality teams as OIA D-I this season.

If your favorite team isn’t on this early-season list, not to worry. There’s plenty of basketball ahead and, hopefully, plenty of pleasant surprises in store.


  1. Sports Fan 808 December 8, 2019 10:17 pm

    Kamehameha’s leading scoring is Camille Feary.

    Mindy Kawaha isn’t injured. She was out of the Kahuku game for personal reasons.

    Maryknoll beat Kahuku at Kahuku and Leiah Naeata did not play.

    Waiakea beat Hilo on the Big Island.

    Tati Reyes is arguably the best player on Punahou. But their coach runs barely to zero sets for her which is why he has limited touches and is only scoring 4-5 ppg.

    Seabury Hall just lost to Maui on Lanai. They are an okay team.

    Kaiser now has 5 healthy bodies. Everyone else is injured.

  2. Sports Fan 808 December 9, 2019 7:54 am

    After watching all these teams, Iolani and Waiakea are the teams to beat right now.

    I don’t agree with the writer’s assessment of Iolani. In the games I have seen, there are 2 players that stand out. Lily Wahinekapu and Jovi Lefotu.

    Top level coaches script plays and create sequences where their best players get more touches and shots, especially from areas where their shooting percentage is higher.

    In the games I’ve watched, you have options 3-6 taking as many, if not more, than options 1-2. That’s how you lose games.

    Waiakea beat a solid Hilo team and absolutely hammered Kahuku.

    The Iolani vs. Kahuku score is misleading. Anyone who saw that game saw Kahuku come out right and a little timid. Then played Iolani practically even in the second half.

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