The Lady Falcons of Kalani have soared in recent years.
They still may soar in the 2019-20 season, but it will be without Chi Mok, who resigned as head coach of the girls basketball program. His departure came after incoming transfer Jalen Tanuvasa, formerly of Maryknoll, moved to Las Vegas.
Add to that two more huge blows. Kalena Halunajan, one of the state’s top junior guards, suffered a season-ending knee injury in the offseason. Halunajan was No. 10 in the Star-Advertiser All-State Fab 15 last season, averaging 16 points per game, and scoring in double figures in all 29 of Kalani’s games last season. Another junior, sharpshooter Alayna Akiona, transferred to Kaiser after Mok stepped down.
Halunajan was due for another big season, but watched longingly. Her left knee is in a brace, crutches close by. She had surgery on Friday and will begin rehab work next week. The injury occurred during offseason club basketball.
“I jumped up for a rebound and landed wrong,” Halunajan said. “I want to play already.”
Mok responded on Wednesday afternoon. His departure from Kalani was by mutual decision. He asked, and hopes, that his situation be held in a positive light.
“I appreciate my time at Kalani. I enjoyed it. It was time to move on,” he said. “I just want to coach. Teach the game. Teach the kids.”
Mok previously coached in ‘Iolani’s program and has since returned.
“We added him onto our JV staff a couple of weeks after he left Kalani,” ‘Iolani coach Dean Young said.
In the meantime, Kalani hired former Hawaii basketball player Justice Sueing to lead the girls basketball program. Sueing’s son, Justice Jr., played at Maryknoll as a freshman before transferring to Mater Dei (Calif.).
Just like that, last year’s OIA Division I runner-up is a shadow of its former self. Gone to graduation are current Utah State freshman Kamalu Kamakawiwo‘ole, swingman Shelby McDaniels, two-way backcourt playmakers Daesha Viela and Heidi Kishaba. Also gone is Kandyce Woods, their post scorer who left the team before the state tournament last year. She graduated, but her father, Jeff, is now an assistant coach under Sueing.
The Lady Falcons played their first game of preseason on Wednesday afternoon, falling to Mid-Pacific at McKinley’s Black & Gold tournament. Sueing was a physical, explosive, energetic and disciplined player at Hawaii back in the day.
“It’s early. I’m not worried about it. They showed their moments, man. That’s what I want to see. We had more ups than downs today,” Sueing said. “We have players. All we need are people who can run up and down the floor, and listen, and execute, you know? Teaching them what to take in I’m saying and applying it on the court. Take that effort and energy, and make it work. Absorb it, then bloom from it.”
Sueing tempers expectations as a high school head coach, not just with players he’s never coached before, but his daughters, too. They’re tall by Hawaii standards, 5-foot-11 and 5-10, but are relatively new to organized hoops. He chuckles when he talks about them.
“They just asked about playing. They asked late. I wish they’d asked me at 10,” Sueing said.
Tanuvasa actually attended Kalani for a month during this fall semester, according her father, Shane. Plans to expand his brother’s solar energy business in Las Vegas changed their lives. At Faith Lutheran, Jalen Tanuvasa — a Star-Advertiser All-State Fab 15 selection as a junior — will be part of a team that will play in three holiday tournaments.
The first tourney is just after Thanksgiving is at Liberty, where former Mililani point guard Dahlis Sablay now goes to school. After that, Faith Lutheran goes to the Nike Tournament of Champions in Arizona.
On the first weekend after New Year’s, the team will go to a showcase tourney in San Diego.
“Some colleges are requesting her practice and game schedule,” Shane Tanuvasa said.