Let the games begin.
The Monday opening round scheduling format for state tournaments has only been around for a few years, but has a unique flavor. Today’s winners in the first round of the Snapple/Hawaii High School Athletic Association Girls Basketball State Championships in Division I are, in effect, playing for the right to battle league champions in the quarterfinal round on Thursday.
Some college conferences might refer to this as a play-in or “pig-tail” game. For the eight teams going to battle today, it is survive and advance, or fail and call it a season. Two of the four games involve inter-island travel, and one of them will begin early enough for the visiting team to hop back on the plane and head back in time for a late-night dinner in the comfort of home.
Below, a look at today’s matchups with teams, overall and regular-season win-loss records.
Kahuku (11-10, 8-2 OIA East) at ‘Iolani (15-8, 7-3 ILH), Monday, 6:30 p.m. — The young Red Raiders transformed from a very young team with little experience into one of the biggest stories of the season statewide. Center Sisila Kaufusi (21 ppg) is a walking double-double with an excellent touch inside 15 feet. The 5-11 junior has capable help with freshman guard Leiah Naeata (12 ppg), a powerful, explosive rim attacker, and speedy junior guard Meleana Tonga.
Speed and power won’t be enough, however, unless the Lady Raiders can take care of the ball against the aggressive fullcourt pressure of ‘Iolani. The Raiders soared out of their dormancy like a their shoes were aflame from running continuous fastbreaks. An early-season injury to Kayla Malta set them back, and so did the quick stint of volleyball all-state player of the year Saige Ka‘aha‘aina-Torres. The 6-foot senior would have been a rebounding force, but a minor injury set her back and she wisely stepped away to focus on her college sport, volleyball.
The return of Taylor Wu, a swift, quick slasher and defender, was a major plus to a lineup that needed one more healthy body. Now coach Dean Young has plenty of available mileage each night, and his team went 6-3 since New Year’s Day — losing only to No. 1 Maryknoll.
Tori Maeda (12 ppg) has been one of the state’s top point guards and freshman Lily Lefotu Wahinekapu (10 ppg) has been outstanding at times. With senior Kellie Okamura and freshman twins Alexis and Alexsandra Huntimer providing a boost off the bench, ‘Iolani is playing some of the best basketball in the state.
‘Iolani has an 11-7 mark against Top 10 teams. Only Maryknoll (20-2 vs. ranked teams) and Kamehameha (11-6) have as many quality wins. Kahuku is 2-5 against Top 10 opposition.
The ‘Iolani-Kahuku winner will play third-seeded Lahainaluna (20-4) on Thursday, 7 p.m. at McKinley Student Council Gymnasium.
Mililani (14-0, 10-0 OIA West) at Kamehameha-Maui (11-7, 7-5 MIL), Monday, 7 p.m. — Surprise, surprise. This is a rematch of a rugged matchup played on Dec. 2 at the Orthopedic Associates/Sacred Hearts Invitational. The Warriors won that game 42-34.
The Trojans were ranked in the Star-Advertiser Top 10 for three weeks before dropping out today. Their unbeaten run in the regular season was big turnaround after a bumpy preseason that included the departure of their longtime head coach.
Now, the Lady Trojans are facing another stretch of adversity. Since losing versatile forward Kalena Gibson to a knee injury in a playoff win over Kaiser — that sealed a state berth — Mililani lost a 47-45 heartbreaker to eventual OIA champion Kalani, and then lost the third-place game to Kahuku 35-27.
The Trojans have enough firepower with explosive point guard Dahlis Sablay and senior Cheyenne Ardona, a 6-foot-2 center. Finding enough defense and offense to replace the athletic Gibson is a must for interim coach Francis Dagan.
KS-Maui has been up and down in MIL play, but eventually persevered to claim the league’s second and final state berth. In their early December win over Mililani, the Warriors demonstrated tremendous shooting depth across the roster. Angel Pauole, Kaylee Cambra, Mikiala Sniffen — all capable of stepping out and busting a zone.
Mililani likes to play man defense, but KS-Maui’s Pauole will be a challenge as she stretches the floor with Ardona covering her. This matchup promises to be a chess match.
The winner will meet top-seeded Maryknoll (26-2) on Thursday, 7 p.m., at Moanalua High School gym.
Campbell (16-6, 7-3 OIA West) at Waiakea (16-8, 8-2 BIIF), Monday, 4 p.m. — The Sabers are flying to the Big Island today, and the way the latter part of the OIA season went, they might feel fortunate. After rolling through the West schedule, the hard-running Sabers seemed to hit a runners’ wall. Losses to Leilehua, Mililani and Radford took all the momentum out of the sails of a team that had gone 7-0 to start league play.
Campbell scrapped through the playoffs, however, notching a 38-35 win over Radford — a team that beat the Sabers just 10 days earlier — to secure a state berth. Senior guard Gieani Balino (15 points per game) and her teammates all have to crash the boards hard. With a 5-6 and under roster, the Sabers need every rebound possible.
Waiakea, like Campbell, has one of the smallest rosters in the tournament. The Warriors, however, have been highly competitive by using a constant fastbreak and tough defensive on-ball pressure. Kelsie Imai (15 ppg) follows the big footsteps of her older sisters and is one of the top sophomores in the state.
The Warriors have won four games against Top 10 teams so far: Mililani, Sacred Hearts and Hilo (twice). They have already traveled once this season, winning two of three games at the Sacred Hearts tourney. Despite a senior-less roster, Waiakea has game experience that matches most teams challenging for the crown.
The Waiakea-Campbell winner takes on fourth-seeded, OIA champion Kalani (14-8) on Thursday, 5 p.m. at Moanalua’s gym.
Kaiser (12-11, 7-3 OIA East) at Moanalua (16-10, 7-3 OIA East), Monday, 6:30 p.m. — This is the only game in this round involving two teams from the same league. With the OIA comprising roughly half of all teams statewide, it is usually impossible to avoid at least one of these situations in the opening round.
It’s a win-win scenario for Na Menehune, who posted some impressive numbers during a seven-game win streak that overlapped into the OIA playoffs. In 55-33 lopsided loss to Kalani in the title tilt, Moanalua looked like a team that needed a rest after facing potential non-qualifying status for the playoffs game after game. If they’ve got their legs and energy back, Moanalua might be a sleeper candidate to reach the final four.
Senior center Delylah Sanerivi has been usually unstoppable on the block. In a clash of titans during the OIA semifinals against Kahuku’s Sisila Kaufusi, Sanerivi posted 21 points and 16 rebounds for the win. If Moanalua can connect just enough from the arc, let’s say a standard minimum 33 percent, that should be enough balance to advance.
Kaiser lost to Moanalua 39-27 when the teams met on Dec. 29. The Lady Cougars are very young, but for one night, with this opportunity, they just might be green enough to have no idea that inexperienced teams don’t usually advance past round one.
Sophomore post Taeya Blakeney will have her hands full against Sanerivi, but if the Cougars can get some splash action from deep by Trinidee Kahunahana and Taryn Kimura, this could turn into another unpredictable finish between East teams.
The victor will battle three-time defending champion, second-seeded Konawaena (23-2) on Thursday, 5 p.m. at McKinley Student Council Gymnasium.