Life on the road can be fun and it can be frazzled, particularly during the Snapple/HHSAA Girls Basketball State Championships.
The Leilehua Mules learned from a state-tournament trip to the Valley Island in 2017. They flew in on game day and departed that night. In between, they lost a heartbreaker to Kamehameha-Maui, 33-31.
A busy school day. A short flight. A long drive Upcountry (Pukalani). A long drive back to the airport. Back on the plane. Then a drive from the airport to Wahiawa. And school the next morning.
This time, the Lady Mules (11-4 overall) are in the state tourney with an opening-round game at four-time defending state champion Konawaena on Monday. Coach Elroy Dumlao and staff are preparing a little differently.
“Two years ago, we played KS-Maui when they had that center (Kimani Fernandez-Roy) whose mother (Cecilia Goods) played volleyball at UH. We lost at the last minute,” Dumlao recalled on Thursday morning. “This time, we’re flying in Sunday night. We have a little kitty in case this kind of stuff happens, so we’re prepared. We’ve been fundraising all year.”
Konawaena’s streak of 124 consecutive wins in BIIF play ended two weeks ago, and the Wildcats lost in the league title game at home on Saturday against Waiakea. The aura of what they’ve done at the highest level, nine state crowns in the past 15 seasons, is still completely unique.
“We’ve overachieved,” Dumlao said. “We’re honored to be playing Kona at Kona. Hopefully, we can get some energy and success. Bobbie (Awa) is a legend. They have some new kids that we don’t know about, but we have to seize the moment. We’ve never beaten them before.”
The Lady Mules will stay overnight in Kona and face the Wildcats in a 4 p.m. tip-off on Monday, then fly home the same night.
Asia Castillo and Kaylen Kamelamela were sophomores on that 2017 Mules squad. This year, Kamelamela is averaging nearly 16 points per game. Castillo, a strong rebounder and versatile defender, is averaging nearly 12 points per game.
Another team taking to the friendly skies for the opening round is Kaiser, which plays Maui on Monday in a 5 p.m. game. The Lady Cougars will fly out on game day and return that night.
“Traveling to compete and come home the same day is tough,” Kaiser coach Brianna Lagat-Ramos said on Thursday morning. “It’s such an exhausting process and can take a toll on the body.”
Lagat-Ramos sounded a bit envious when she heard about Leilehua’s plans to fly out a day in advance.
“Smart. It’s kind of hard to plan for it at the end,” she said.
The Cougars haven’t traveled off-island since ’17 when they played in Waiakea’s preseason tourney. This year’s team has experience, though, with senior point guard Trinidee Kahunahana and persistent posts Stephanie Cannon and Taeya Blakeney.
“For some of my players, it will be their first time to Maui, so they are excited,” Lagat-Ramos added. “I don’t know too much about Maui because the last time we saw them was at the Moanalua (Peek) Tournament. I vaguely remember what they ran, but we can expect to be pressured. What I do remember is they are feisty and relentless, especially on the defensive end.”
The Leilehua-Konawaena winner will meet fourth-seeded Kahuku, the OIA champion, on Thursday, 5 p.m., at Moanalua gym.
The Kaiser-Maui winner will meet top-seeded ‘Iolani on Thursday, 7 p.m., in the same Moanalua bracket.
All four Division I quarterfinal games will be played on Oahu at Moanalua and McKinley. The final two rounds will be played at Stan Sheriff Center.