By Paul Honda
Of all the teams in the Hawaiian Airlines’/HHSAA Girls Basketball Division II State Championships, Molokai has reason to stand out.
Center Kalei Adolpho, at 6-foot-1, has been a fixture since her freshman season. As a sophomore, she led the Farmers to the D-II state crown. Before her junior year, she gave the University of Hawaii and coach Dana Takahara-Dias a verbal commitment to play basketball.
Molokai is also the only D-II team that has been voted into the Star-Bulletin Girls Basketball Top 10 every week of the regular season.
So why would there be doubt that the Farmers can win another state title?
The answer is simple. There are just a lot of good teams in D-II, including a Sacred Hearts squad that went undefeated in the Interscholastic League of Honolulu.
Here’s a look at this week’s state tourney, starting with the seeded state champions.
Opponent: Hawaii Baptist or Kaiser, Wednesday, 5 p.m., Kalani/Earl Holmer Gym.
On paper: As expected, Molokai (15-3) ran the table in the MIL, winning all 10 conference games to claim the top seed in the state tourney. Coach Doug Furlong and assistant Mike Hooper knew the forecast well and loaded up on tough preseason games.
The Farmers traveled to the Big Island and played Konawaena, ‘Iolani and Kamehameha-Hawaii, coming away with a win over the latter. KS-Hawaii later won the BIIF D-II title.
Molokai also traveled to Moanalua’s tourney, posting wins over Kamehameha and Moanalua while losing to Pearl City.
Then came a trip to Maui, where they played in Lahainaluna’s tourney and scored another win over KS-Hawaii. The only matchup missing from the schedule? Fans may have wanted a showdown between MIL D-I champion Lahainaluna and the Farmers. However, the MIL schedule is split between classifications, and the teams didn’t have the time to meet.
The skinny: Adolpho is capable of a 30-20 against any team regardless of classification. She is highly competitive in volleyball and ran track and cross country in previous years. If she’s fresh, she could tear apart competition this week in the D-II tourney.
Guard Danna-Lynn Hooper has been another stalwart starter for Molokai.
X factor: The question remains, do they have a reliable third scorer when opposing teams clamp down on Adolpho and Hooper? It’s an interesting notion this year more than usual. Breadth isn’t quite what it was say two or three years ago. That’s the nature of most things: cyclical. Doesn’t mean Molokai can’t win the title again, or that the Farmers, who are ranked No. 9 in the Star-Bulletin Girls Basketball Top 10, wouldn’t be there if this were 2007 or ’08.
Overachievement isn’t relegated to average or below-average teams. But the lack of a third (and fourth) solid contributor could make the difference, especially with Kaimuki emerging as an inside-out squad with four potential double-digit scorers.
Opponent: Seabury Hall or Hawaii Prep, Wednesday, 7 p.m., Kalani/Earl Holmer Gym.
On paper: The ‘Dogs, seeded second in the tourney, played their best ball late in the season, posting back-to-back wins over league favorite Kahuku to win the Oahu Interscholastic Association White Conference title.
The difference between Red and White teams in the OIA is negligible. Kaimuki lost to a Red West power, Pearl City, 54-47 in preseason. Kahuku lost to Moanalua 72-65. Both Pearl City and Moanalua are in the Division I state tourney. If not for classification, chances are Kaimuki and Kahuku would’ve qualified for the same tourney.
The skinny: Kaimuki (12-2 OIA White) lost streaky shooter Olivia Phommachanh to graduation, but freshman Alison Pologa has been explosive on both ends and had a 20-point performance in one of the wins over Kahuku last week. Pologa had 29 points against Kaiser in her varsity debut just two weeks ago.
Junior guard Letisha Fa‘asoa and sophomore Dejah Fa‘asoa are practically coaches on the floor; their mother, Mona, is Kaimuki’s longtime coach and former standout player.
Center Leti Mikaele gives Kaimuki a smart, efficient post scorer and rebounder — probably the best in Division II next to Adolpho.
X factor: A 1-3-1 zone defense by Kaimuki derailed Kahuku and could be the trick to foil the rest of the D-II field.
Opponent: Kapaa or University, Tuesday, 7 p.m., Farrington/Richard Kitamura Memorial Fieldhouse.
On paper: The Lancers (18-2, 13-0 ILH D-II), seeded third in the tourney, battled injuries late in the season. After being forced to play in Division I for years — former standout Brittney Aiwohi once scored 25 points in a row against then-No. 1 Punahou — Sacred Hearts is in position to make school history.
The skinny: Rayna Munos is a formidable scorer. Center Naihe Paikai (ankle) and forward Tess O’Connor (meniscus) are key to the Lancers. Coach Alan Matsui’s team isn’t deep, so having an opening-round bye helps immensely.
X factor: If they aren’t healthy, it’ll be a tough matchup with Kapaa or University. The latter has a tough scorer and rebounder in Quynne Eharis.
Opponent: Kahuku or Word of Life, Wednesday, 7 p.m., Kalani/Earl Holmer Gym.
On paper: The Warriors, seeded fourth, barely won the Big Island Interscholastic Federation crown with a 44-43 overtime win over Hawaii Prep. A steady diet of D-I opponents during the regular season was a plus, including a 51-49 loss to No. 5-ranked Waiakea.
In preseason, KS-Hawaii played Lahainaluna twice and Molokai twice, nearly upsetting the Farmers (42-40, 61-55). The Warriors also played Konawaena.
They were 8-5 in BIIF play.
The skinny: The Warriors have balance, but Katelynne Paleka-Kennedy, a 6-2 junior, could be the sleeper of the tourney. She amassed 15 points, 16 rebounds, seven blocks and three steals against HPA.
X factor: The Warriors like to press and push the tempo. If they wind up playing Kahuku, it could be a full-tilt circus.
Hawaii Baptist vs. Kaiser
Tuesday, 5 p.m., Kalani/Earl Holmer Gym
On paper: The Eagles have been a solid program for many, many years. Jennifer Young has been a consistent leading scorer for a team that relies on defense.
Kaiser, like Sacred Hearts, had a good regular-season but fell short against the top teams. Mele Adams has erupted for some big scoring nights, but she gets help from Kiana Nakai and Kristi Arellano.
The skinny: HBA has common opponents with Kaiser. Both teams have lost to Leilehua and Kalaheo.
X factor: Scouting report, anyone? These teams haven’t played each other this season, playing in different leagues. Which staff had more time to scout? It’s a good question.
Kahuku vs. Word of Life
Tuesday, 7 p.m., Kalani/Earl Holmer Gym
On paper: The Lady Raiders (12-3 OIA White) suffered a setback last week, losing consecutive games to Kaimuki with the league title on the line. Word of Life has been steady and competitive in the ILH, but is up against a foe with more depth.
The skinny: Kahuku could come out with more focus and motivation after last week’s losses. If not, it could be a scary night. Jessica Falemalu is a 3-point weapon, as is Tisa Te‘o, but the engine is powered by Joshlyn Noga in the post. Rachel Tailele is a weapon in the transition game, while Hi‘ilei Cummings is a versatile senior who can play any position.
Word of Life has a scorer in Phoibe Fetu, who is also a standout on the volleyball court for the Firebrands.
X factor: Kahuku is a strong favorite, but nothing is a given. The Lady Raiders were upset in last year’s tourney by Kapaa.
Seabury Hall vs. Hawaii Prep
Tuesday, 5 p.m., Farrington/Richard Kitamura Memorial Fieldhouse
On paper: Hawaii Prep nearly won the BIIF title. Seabury Hall was runner-up in the MIL.
HPA senior Tayler Wang is one of the best swing players in the state, a penetrator with a solid mid-range jumper who can run the floor well. Wang was one of the better players at the Team Aloha tryouts last year, but was surprisingly cut.
Seabury Hall (7-3 MIL) has a go-to scorer in Sierra Jacob, who had 25 points in a semifinal win over Hana and 12 against Molokai.
The skinny: It’s the first trip of the season to Oahu for both teams. Which team handles the pressure of a state-tournament game better?
X factor: Wang is a multi-dimensional player and has experience to boot. That flexibility makes her tough to stop. Advantage to Ka Makani.
Kapaa vs. University
Tuesday, 7 p.m., Farrington/Richard Kitamura Memorial Fieldhouse
On paper: It was just a year ago when the Warriors shocked Kahuku at the state tourney. That had little bearing this season, when the champions of the Kauai Interscholastic Federation were left unseeded.
Tori Tuttle, Kira Nakamura and Ashlyn Lee are among Kapaa’s top scorers.
Quynne Eharis, a two-sport standout, is possibly the top player in ILH D-II. She has strength in the post and volleyball hops; she is an outside hitter.
The skinny: The Warriors have last year’s experience to stand on, but the Junior Rainbows play in a league with plenty of quality D-II programs.
X factor: Kapaa hasn’t played a post scorer like Eharis all season, possibly.