Manuel, Vierra spark Kamehameha over Kaimuki

Kamehameha senior Kiana Vierra connected on a 3-point shot during the second half against Kaimuki. Vierra finished with 14 points in a 52-31 win by the Warriors. Paul Honda/Star-Advertiser (Nov. 16, 2017)

Sometimes, the learning curve has a few bumps along the route.

Kamehameha, one of the contenders for the Interscholastic League of Honolulu girls basketball title, is taking that bumpy ride with appreciation. Senior Kiana Vierra scored 10 of her 14 points in the second half as Kamehameha broke open a close game and rolled to a 52-31 win at Kaimuki on Thursday night.

The UC Santa Barbara signee didn’t have to carry the load, even on a night when center Kalina Obrey and point guard Jewel Pa’aluhi-Caulk were sidelined. Kaylee-Brooke Manuel, their junior center, poured in 15 of her 17 points in the first half to sustain the Warriors. Without the missing starters, Kamehameha is actually a fairly young group.

Their fullcourt pressure had mixed results, and Kaimuki was within 29-22 at the break. Kaelyn Espinda, a junior point guard, scored 11 of her 16 points in the first half.

Kaimuki guard Kaelyn Espinda drives against Kamehameha during nonconference play. Espinda finished with 14 points. Paul Honda/Star-Advertiser (Nov. 16, 2017)

The second half was all Kamehameha as depth was a near-complete advantage. The Bulldogs suited up seven players, including two from the junior varsity. Two starters were out with injuries, and two more are out on academic probation. That’s three starters out of the lineup for first-year head coach Jordan Wong. The Bulldogs are 1-2 so far in nonconference play.

Wong doesn’t expect most of his unavailable players back until next week.

“We’re hoping to get Nancy (Atiga) (ankle) back tomorrow,” he said.

Sonia Palik, a junior guard, added six points. Palik and Espinda faced pressure throughout the second half. Kamehameha dropped to halfcourt man-to-man defense, and every time the two slashers got into the paint, help-side defenders set up a wall of resistance. The young Bulldogs, including two freshmen who started, struggled to hit shots from the perimeter.

Kamehameha coach Joseph Cho was pleased with his team, which is now 5-1 in nonconference play.

“We’re trying to develop our young kids. During one of our timeouts, I told them we’re trying to get them ready for the ILH season,” Cho said.

The Warriors kept watch and tried to smother Espinda, a long-range shooter who managed to get some open looks with help from pick-and-roll screens.

“She can shoot it from anywhere. Our main concern was don’t give them any momentum or gusto,” Cho said. “We didn’t do that until the end of the second quarter.”

Kaimuki is in its first season without longtime coach Mona Fa‘asoa, who retired after last season. She was in attendance, relaxed and enjoying life as a civilian. Much of her free time is spent watching her son play football and basketball for the Bulldogs.

“It’s kind of difficult for them, adjusting to me. They’re so used to Mona,” Wong said. “We came out and battled. We hung in there for about two-and-a-half quarters.”

When the rest of the team returns, the Bulldogs may accelerate that learning curve. But injuries and academic issues may or may not linger. That leaves Espinda and Palik with a unique challenge.

“I think for Sonia and Kaelyn, what I want is for them to trust their teammates,” Wong said. “Building that trust and their teammates moving without the ball.”

Whether Kaimuki gets over the hump, their Espinda and Palik could have careers beyond high school on the hardwood.

“I read about their player today,” Wong said, referring to Vierra. “I told (Palik and Espinda) that this is a good test against her, to challenge themselves.”

Espinda, for much of the game, covered the 5-foot-11 Vierra.

“I wanted them to play defense on her, not being scared to take on the challenge,” Wong said. “They’re two of the most competitive girls I’ve ever seen.”

Kaimuki will visit Hawaii Baptist on Saturday. The junior-varsity game tip off at 5 p.m., followed by the varsity matchup.

Kamehameha’s next game is against Kahuku on Monday at Kekuhaupio Gymnasium. JV tip-off is 5 p.m., followed by varsity.


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