Kealani Neves never planned to miss this part.
As the St. Francis Saints celebrated after a thrilling 47-43 win over Hawaii Baptist to win the ILH Division II girls basketball title on Jan. 20, Neves was a spectator. She clearly missed her teammates and friends. The game was a month ago, and since then, the Saints finished second in the Snapple/HHSAA Girls Basketball State Championships. They could have benefited from the play of Neves and older sister Savannah. They never intended to leave St. Francis after just one semester.
“There were just some complications. My parents made the decision to move us,” Neves said after the ILH title game. “I’m super happy for them. I wish I could be on the court with them, but some things don’t work out that way.”
After averaging more than 13 points per game, she and older sister Savannah, along with Kealani’s twin brother, Kaleo, left the school. The sisters told their teammates about their departure after their previous game with HBA on Dec. 23. They had come to the school and joined the team just a few months earlier, having returned to Hawaii from Utah. Kealani Neves, a junior, was a zone-busting 3-point shooter with versatility.
“We were sad. I felt bad for the girls. They fit in pretty good. Kealani was one of our better ballhandlers and Savannah was pretty good, too,” Saints coach Chris Hoe said. “It’s hard going to a new school.”
During the ILH D-II season, St. Francis didn’t miss a beat, even without Kealani, a starter, and Savannah, a key reserve player. Nani Santos was a go-to mid-range scorer. Point guard Kaimi Kalei was composed and clutch. Mata Sagapolutlele was ultra-reliable on the boards, a solid shooter in the paint. Other players, including freshman Trisadee Kahunahana, junior Kawena Kalani, and posts Skye Ah Yat and Misiona Ribeiro, absorbed more minutes and play vital roles. They’d already built a foundation before the Neves sisters arrived, but with them, the team’s depth was uncommonly good at the D-II level.
At the time the sisters departed from the team, St. Francis was 16-0 (8-0 in league play) and ranked No. 5 in the Star-Advertiser Girls Basketball Top 10. Besides No. 10 Hawaii Baptist, the Saints played two teams that were in the Top 10 this season, beating Sacred Hearts (56-41) and Punahou (49-31). Neves scored 21 points against Punahou.
The Saints finished the season 25-1, ranked No. 9 in the Top 10.
The Neves sisters’ brother, Kahi, is a former Kaiser quarterback who transferred to a high school in Utah. He committed to play for the University of Utah, then switched to Arizona before leaving the Wildcats last year. After returning to the islands, he helped the Saints football team last season, co-athletic director Duane Eldredge said.
Eldredge said he is not aware of why the siblings left St. Francis.
“They’re a good family, good parents and good kids,” he said. “All I heard is that they are at Kahuku.”
The family moved to the North Shore and the siblings have enrolled there. By rule, the sisters were not eligible to play immediately for a second basketball team during the same season, which meant that Savannah’s senior year and high school hoops career was done.
“There’s definitely a lot of jumping around,” Kealani Neves said. “But it’s not the end of the world. We learn to adapt and use what’s given. That’s what my dad teaches us.”
In recent years, there have been quite a few student-athletes who attended St. Francis, which went to a co-ed format after decades as an all-girls school. Many of those who later left the small private school in Manoa Valley landed at public schools.
Kaleo Neves would have had an opportunity to play football at Kaiser next season if the family hadn’t moved. Now he will have a chance to play for the OIA’s defending champion at Kahuku.
Next winter, Kealani Neves will suit up for a young Kahuku girls basketball team that reached the OIA D-I semifinals. The Lady Raiders have plenty of strengths, from the post scoring of 6-foot junior Sisilia Kaufusi, the guard play of freshman Leiah Naeata and junior Tiueti Tonga, to the overall depth and size coming off the bench. They have a young, savvy former all-state center as their head coach: Latoya Wily.
However, there is one aspect that could use help: 3-point shooting. They were 0-for-2 from the arc in a 59-57 overtime loss to Moanalua in the OIA playoffs.