HIGH SCHOOL BASKETBALL
Coaches see Warriors as favorites
The roundball wars of the Interscholastic League of Honolulu will be settled by new players this year.
Punahou has reinvented itself following the heart-breaking knee injuries to All-State juniors Shawna-Lei and Shaena-Lyn Kuehu.
For openers, Kamehameha is No. 1
The first poll of the high school girls basketball season, our Star-Bulletin Girls Basketball Top 10, coincides with a preview of the Interscholastic League of Honolulu's Division I squads.
Though two-time defending state champion Punahou is off to a 9-1 start, coaches and media voted the Buffanblu fifth in today's Top 10, well behind No. 1 Kamehameha. So much for memories.
With Daphne Honma now at Hawaii-Hilo, No. 6 Honokaa has a new guru in longtime assistant Shawna Lau Kong.
"The stress is different as a head coach," she said. "I gotta keep dying my hair."
Former Hawaii-Hilo player Ryan Hogue is the new coach at Kalaheo, taking over for Chico Furtado. The Lady Mustangs round out the poll at No. 10.
Kamehameha went through an adjustment when point guard Johanna Sai suffered an ACL injury of her own.
Even Iolani has been resilient after losing two players recently.
In the ILH, where every contribution matters, it's all about survival. So far, Iolani, Kamehameha and Punahou have done a bit more than survive. The three elite programs have a combined record of 26-2 in nonconference play. Since the Kuehus were sidelined, the race to the top has not been so close during the last several years. Filtering out a favorite is a crapshoot.
Punahou coach Mike Taylor points to Iolani's experienced duo of Jamie Smith and Alana Matayoshi.
"Jamie has been dominant inside all preseason, and Alana will hit the baseline jumper with consistency," he said. "They have solid perimeter players who can handle the ball and shoot the 3."
Kamehameha, Taylor added, has a go-to standout in senior Analee Viena-Lota. "They have some good young talent who are fundamentally sound. They're led by Ana, who is the most athletic player in our league and can hit the mid-range jumper with consistency," Taylor added.
Kamehameha coach ClayCockett is as stern and demanding as ever, but he couldn't contain his satisfaction after the Warriors swept through the First Hawaiian Bank Lady Na Menehune Peek Tournament. Filling in the void left by Sai's injury, which happened in the first game of the season against Farrington, has gone smoothly.
"Johanna is a multi-purpose player and everybody else has their ability and role," said Cockett, who uses 10 highly skilled players with hardly a dropoff.
"Other people had to step up," Viena-Lota said. "I have to be more of a leader. It's different, but I like it."
Cockett is thrilled that Viena-Lota hit the weight room often in the offseason.
"She's been doing a lot of work, and she's learning how to be a leader," he said.
Punahou and Iolani drew a lot of attention early on, but it might be Kamehameha that will ascend. Taylor and Cockett have three state titles apiece, while Iolani has been perched near the throne since its last crown in 1996.
"Our success will be determined partly by how our returnees and newcomers blend together," Iolani coach Glenn Takara said.
Mid-Pacific coach Byron Cheng doesn't hesitate.
"Kamehameha, they're unreal," he said of his preseason ILH favorite.
Jamie Smith, 5-foot-11 and agile, is one of the most efficient low-post scorers in the state. Alana Matayoshi is a money mid-range shooter and a terrific defender, one of the fastest finishers in transition. The Raiders went 9-1 in nonconference play, proving that success with a guard-heavy rotation is attainable.
Smith would easily score more than 20 points per game if opposing teams didn't collapse as much, but that leaves the perimeter open for long-range gunners Chelsea Unemori, Chanel Hirata, Tami Konishi and Dayna Jandoc. The Raiders have some defensive liabilities because of their overall lack of height, so offensive execution must be at a premium.
Sarah Turgeon has the tools to become a consistent contributor under the basket and on the perimeter.
The Warriors (8-0) are rich with talent all the way down the bench. Analee Viena-Lota is now a senior, with a rapid-fire, deadly mid-range shot and increased strength underneath. Rhani Kaneaiakala has the power to dominate the low post, but is deceptively quick on defense.
Cockett puts all of his decades in coaching to good use with this group. The reserves, led by sharpshooters Tiana Abbley and Pualei Furtado, are also tall. Kylle Roy and Casey Lum provide size and rebounding off the bench.
Kamehameha could turn up the tempo and use its depth as a weapon, but will likely control a slower tempo. It's nice to have options.
Nicole Fu went through an adjustment period last season following the graduation of four starters. This season, she is en fuego. The senior already has a single-game high of 29 points despite the absence of consistent scorers in the Spartans lineup.
The young Spartans have won close games over competitive teams like Moanalua, Aiea and McKinley. They have also struggled against Top 10 teams like Roosevelt.
Execution vs. Inexperience. In the ILH, three of their four foes are among the best in the state. Samson will have to draw up his greatest game plans to get Maryknoll above .500.
The Owls have been working steadily since last summer, when they traveled to Las Vegas for a tournament. Four of the starters are freshmen, which makes sophomore returnee Johnnelle Kapua a veteran. Erin Nishimura, a guard, is the only other returnee.
Mid-Pac is only 1-4 in nonconference play, but the ceiling for growth is enormously high.
The Owls were ahead at Farrington 18-2, but lost by 10. Cheng isn't worried.
"This is such a good bunch of kids with a good work ethic. They get better and better and do everything we ask," he said.
Among the freshmen, Jenna Savusa, the younger sister of former standout Jade Savusa, is one of the starters. At 5-10, she could develop into a force under the basket. The other post, Keaton McFadden (5-11), has improved drastically since last summer and is MPI's leading rebounder.
Cheng decided to keep just eight players on the roster. Whether that plays a role when injuries and illnesses add up remains to be seen.
The loss of two-time Star-Bulletin Player of the Year Shawna-Lei Kuehu and All-State point forward Shaena-Lyn Kuehu hasn't derailed the Buffanblu. The defending state champions went 9-1 in nonconference play.
The Buffanblu don't have a ton of perimeter shooters, but they have quickness and chemistry. Ciana Aiwohi is one of the top point guards in the state, while Chelsea Deptula and Melanie Feldman anchor a senior-heavy group that plays outstanding defense over 94 feet of hardwood. Still, only four of the Buffanblu had significant playing time last year.
Punahou's inexperienced reserves will play a bigger role than usual since a dominator like Shawna-Lei Kuehu is out.