HIGH SCHOOL BASKETBALL
Iolani is the early favorite among the Big 3
Don't tell the Iolani Raiders.
They don't want to know or hear that more coaches and media than not believe they are the best team in the Interscholastic League of Honolulu.
Don't tell the Punahou Buffanblu. They'll probably use this lack of respect -- Punahou is the defending girls basketball state champion -- as fuel when the regular season tips off this weekend.
Don't tell the Kamehameha Warriors. With Iolani and Punahou garnering attention near and far in nonconference play, the Warriors quietly racked up a perfect record.
If the Big 3 of the ILH buy into the old standard of dominance, they could be in for a surprise. Mid-Pacific's program is on the rise again. The Owls may have their best team since the 2000 group that reached the state semifinals.
Even tiny Sacred Hearts is a dark horse after winning eight of 10 in nonconference action.
Punahou coach Mike Taylor sees Iolani as the clear favorite.
"They have basically the same team they've had for the past three years, great coaching staff and adding Megan Burton has really pushed them over the top," he said of the Sacred Hearts transfer who sat out one year.
Iolani point guard Hennasea-Sue Tokumura may have no peer in the islands.
"Hennasea is an extremely talented point guard who understands how to make her teammates better," Taylor added.
The regular season starts with a bang as third-ranked Kamehameha visits No. 1 Iolani tonight at 6:30.
Tomorrow, Maryknoll visits No. 2 Punahou at 3:30 p.m., and ninth-ranked Mid-Pacific hosts Sacred Hearts at 6 p.m.
Here's a look at this season's ILH D-I squads.
On paper: Takara took his team to Maui for a two-game swing to shortened the hiatus from three long weeks to a manageable two.
At 12-0, the Raiders are on high-octane levels, having scorched every opponent. The chemistry of returnees in the post and on the perimeter is unmatched by any team, but the glue remains Tokumura.
In addition, guards Kaz Masutani, Chelsea Unemori and Marci Kang are among the more experienced returnees. Slasher Alana Matayoshi gives the Raiders more experience on the wing.
The front court is deep and skilled. Alana Wall and Jamie Smith, at 5-11, buoy centers Megan Burton (6-1) and Keilyn Fujioka.
The skinny: This is the deepest, most experienced team in the league. Once a talented, but inexperienced squad, Iolani is now a veteran bunch already in midseason form.
On paper: The past three weeks of inaction haven't meant inactivity for the Warriors.
"We've been doing a lot of conditioning," senior guard Tatri Lorenzo said. "A lot."
That will come in handy for a Warrior squad that was stung last year when it didn't qualify for the state tournament. Lorenzo, who is leaning toward Gonzaga next season, is a 'tweener guard who is effective as a 2, but has ample ability at the point.
Ana Viena-Lota has developed into a highly capable wing, but the Warriors will need her long arms and athleticism on the glass, too.
The skinny: How far the Warriors go has less to do with talent and more to do with the highly-competitive ILH. Point guard Johanna Sai is healthy, and Rhani Kaneaiakala is among several underclassmen who could step up.
With only two state berths available to the ILH, every individual contribution is huge.
On paper: Gone are the four senior starters who almost led the Spartans to a state berth last season. The lone returning starter is guard Nicole Fu, who has had up and down moments as she finds herself surrounded by new, inexperienced teammates.
Fu has led the team in scoring and was named to all-tournament teams twice in nonconference play (Punahou Wahine Spring Classic and Waiakea Invitational).
Samantha Chung and Kristen Canencia have also been among Maryknoll's bright spots.
The skinny: Samson's team would excel in Division II, but unfortunately, the Spartans are in D-I with a young group of promising players. Among their nonconference wins was a 39-36 thriller over defending OIA White champion Kalani. One of their losses came against Farrington, 65-53. Fu scored 24 points in that loss, but the Spartans will need to age quickly to catch up with more powerful D-I foes.
On paper: The young Owls went 8-3 in nonconference play, including a string of four wins. The prospect of more growth and improvement was painful at times last year, but necessary.
This year, they have already routed Kalani by more than 20 points and OIA title contender Roosevelt (42-37) and finished the Punahou Spring Wahine Classic with a 4-0 mark.
Meghan Laughlin's strong play in the post anchors the Owls, and point guard Keri Nakamura quietly handles her duties on both sides of the floor.
Johnelle Kapua is an X factor.
"She is mature for her age and has the ability to play both ends of the court," Cheng said. "She will not let anyone outwork her. She has a bright future."
The skinny: Cheng is hoping for a breakout season by Kristina Lin.
"She has the potential to be our offensive threat who can score inside and outside, but she's been silent in preseason," he said.
Lin and the Owls don't have to look far for inspiration. The coaching staff includes former Rainbow Wahine players Da Houl and Hedy Liu.
On paper: The Buffanblu will miss point guard Shanna-Lei Dacanay and swingman Christine Takara, as well as defensive stopper Tessa Sonobe. Filling those spots will take some time, though Punahou's 11-0 nonconference mark shows few weaknesses.
Twins Shawna-Lei and Shaena-Lyn Kuehu are very versatile, and also capable of dominating the paint at will. Shawna-Lei has been hampered by a minor groin injury, but should be close to 100 percent this weekend.
"Her caring and humble nature, competitive desire for success and enthusiasm for her teammates is truly appreciated by the staff and me," Taylor said. "Shaena's work ethic in practice has really improved over the course of the preseason and she's worked herself into quite a force on the court."
Senior co-captain Sophie Merrifield surged into the forefront last season as a perimeter shooter and rebounder. Junior Chelsea Deptula has returned from an ACL injury to become a key contributor again, particularly on the defensive end.
The skinny: The Buffanblu won with a blend of seniors and underclassmen last season, edging Konawaena for the state title. Those returning Buffs now have a chance to carve their own niche, and the experience of last year's tough road will only help.
Sacred Hearts Lancers
On paper: This is another small school, like Maryknoll, that would thrive in D-II. Samantha Saito's savvy and experience are a key factor in SHA's early success.
Their 8-2 mark, Matsui is quick to point out, was against a schedule of mostly D-II foes. Still, surprise is an element Matsui wants to employ.
Rebecca Debo, a 6-2 senior, has improved.
"She's really worked hard on her game and become more mobile. From where she came, she's really come a long way," Matsui said.
Cara Smith, SHA's leading rebounder in nonconference play, suffered an ACL injury against Mililani and is out for the season.
The skinny: Three players are now out due to academic probation, which means two freshmen will see instant playing time.
"It's almost like starting preseason all over again," Matsui said.
OIA baseball games rained out again
All eight Oahu Interscholastic Association baseball games were rained out yesterday and are tentatively scheduled to be made up within the next few days.
The postponed games:
» Moanalua at Kailua
» Kalaheo at Kalani
» Kaimuki at McKinley
» Waianae vs. Aiea at CORP
» Kapolei vs. Leilehua at Fred Wright Field
» Nanakuli at Radford
» Waipahu at Waialua
» Mililani at Pearl City
The Waialua-Waipahu game will be played today at 2 p.m. at Waialua. All other games are scheduled for Monday at 4 p.m., with Moanalua, McKinley, Waianae, Leilehua and Nanakuli to tentatively be the home sites. The Kalaheo-Kalani game will be played at Kahala Community Park, and the Mililani-Pearl City game's location has yet to be determined.