It is too early to declare anything — the exception being the dominance of defending state champion ‘Iolani — in girls basketball this season, though the Lahainaluna Lunas are inching toward identity.
Two wins in the past week have vaulted the proud Lunas back into the Star-Advertiser Girls Basketball Top 10.
On Wednesday, the 10th-ranked Lunas hit Honoapi‘ilani Highway, then trekked uphill on Kula Highway to complete the 33-mile journey to King Kekaulike. They swamped Na Alii 66-36 and followed it with a 59-23 blowout of Baldwin. After losing to King Kekaulike on Dec. 17, ending a 164-game win streak in MIL play, then falling at Maui two weeks later, Lahainaluna had no choice but to evolve.
A big part of that development is the emergence of guard Taylor Eldredge, who poured in 30 points against King Kekaulike. She followed that with 23 against Baldwin. Getting revenge on King Kekaulike was not a motivational tool, at least not outwardly.
“It wasn’t that they broke the streak when they beat us, but more our back was against the wall,” longtime Lunas coach Todd Rickard said. “If we lost that game, our chance of winning the MIL regular-season championship would probably be diminished.”
At 7-2 in league play, Lahainaluna shares first place with Maui. King Kekaulike has fallen from the driver’s seat to the back seat at 6-3. The MIL regular-season winner will earn an automatic state-tournament berth. The second state berth will be determined by the playoffs.
“(King Kekaulike) had a big crowd, but we were up 11 in the first quarter and they weren’t as vocal. By the third quarter, we were still playing with a lot of energy, being in the right spot, pushing the ball,” Rickard said.
The Lunas have overcome injuries, including one to starting guard Ashley Akamine. Returning starter Abigail Akamine helps hold down the fort, but with Ashley and a few other key players dealing with injuries, there were voids. Or rather, opportunities.
“Everybody’s improving, but at this point and time, Taylor is the most improved,” Rickard said of the sophomore. “She is probably one of the best shooters I’ve had in the whole time I’ve been here. I wouldn’t say she’s automatic, but she’s very high percentage.”
Eldredge was a tentative shooter as a freshman, Rickard said, but had an eye-opening performance late in the season. Then came sophomore year and the Lunas struggled against top teams at McKinley’s Matsumoto Law Group Black and Gold Classic.
“She was figuring things out. This year, she kind of started off slow again and she’s worked her way to where she is now,” Rickard noted. “She knew that she had to step up and be a big contributor. That’s what we’ve learned with the girls being out. They’re finding chemistry.”
Eldredge is also a key Luna on the glass.
“She has long arms and she rebounds. She’s doing everything. Honestly, she could become really good. As she gets older, she’ll be dominating, for sure. We just have to keep molding her and working with her,” Rickard said.
As for the MIL race, this has been the most unpredictable season since the pre-dynasty years, perhaps going back to the Kami Kapaku era at Baldwin. Four MIL teams have been ranked at one time or another in the Top 10.
Seabury Hall made the most noise in preseason by knocking off defending Division II state champion Hawaii Baptist, then battling ILH powerhouse Punahou in a 49-42 loss. The Spartans also split two preseason games with current MIL D-I co-leader Maui, prompting coaches and media to vote them into the Top 10 for two weeks.
King Kekaulike then made a huge splash with its upset win at Lahainaluna. However, six days later, Na Alii lost to Maui, the same team they had routed by 21 points to being the league schedule.
Maui, which stayed at No. 9 in today’s Top 10, has more wins over ranked teams — four — than any of its peers in the MIL.
Because Seabury Hall plays a D-II only schedule in MIL play, there won’t be a distinct, unofficial claim as the best team in the league. No Seabury Hall vs. Lahainaluna, though a few of the Spartans play with Rickard’s Menehune team when they travel in the summer. A team with that much talent, including sisters Anau and Pio Tu‘ivai, Leela and Ameera Waterford, playing with the Lunas during the MIL season would have been sensational. Not that any of the Spartans considered transferring.
“D-II is a great fit for them. They don’t have the depth,” Rickard said, noting that the Tu‘ivai sisters live Upcountry.
For now, the Lunas are glad to have some time to heal up. They don’t play again until Saturday against Maui, who have talent from another productive club program, the Maui Sparks.
“Hopefully, we get Ashley back. We need to rest up, heal up and, hopefully, on Saturday we pull it off,” Rickard said.
Also receiving votes: Mid-Pacific 2, King Kekaulike 1, Seabury Hall 1, Waimea 1.
Honolulu Star-Advertiser Top 10
|Updated: Sept. 20|
|1.||Saint Louis (12)||120|