OIA RED EAST
Kalani, defending champion Roosevelt among top contenders
Of all the Oahu Interscholastic Association title-winning teams of the past 20 years, only one girls basketball championship coach remains.
Roosevelt's Bobby Keanini led his team to the league crown last year, and though three starters return, his team isn't a clear-cut favorite to repeat as champion.
The reason is simple. This may turn out to be the most tumultuous, competitive Red East season in recent history.
Three of the East's teams are ranked in the Star-Bulletin Top 10. The best of them could well be Kalani, which won the Division II state title last season.
With an influx of new talent -- Courtney Gaddis transferred from La Pietra and Rhianna Farm transferred from Kamehameha -- the Lady Falcons have the inside power to mesh with a core of solid backcourt standouts.
"I think Kalani is the front runner," new Kahuku coach Peni Latu said. "What they've shown is that they've competed with the ILH and that's where the road goes through in the end."
Roosevelt, with All-State guard Iwalani Rodrigues, still has the aura of a front runner. Kalaheo is relying on All-State guard Shanadee Canon, and the East doesn't get much easier after that.
Kalaheo is upbeat after finishing third in the Hilo High School Classic. The Lady Mustangs pushed Honokaa to the limit before losing, then outlasted Waiakea.
On paper: C'ani Kealoha and Elaine Leaupepe anchor the backcourt. "C'ani is much more mature, being her third year on the varsity," Tumaneng said. "We're excited about our sophomores."
Valerie Lesu is just 5-5, but scores often in the paint. "She just hustles a lot. She does what she's asked to do," Tumaneng said. Jorell Telefoni-Sablan, who also plays the post, and guard Natalie Mata are key contributors. Mata is a transfer from the island of Kauai.
With the mix of new and old players, the Governors went 6-6 in a rugged nonconference schedule.
KAHUKU RED RAIDERS
On paper: Latu, 39, is a 1986 graduate of Kahuku. He played under Kendall Ko and began coaching when Wendy Anae arrived in 2002. Latu replaces Val Anae, who returned to the mainland.
Latu inherits a team that has five returning starters. Seniors Lenora Nauahi and Brittney Fesolai anchor the backcourt, while Kendra Moe, Keisha Moeai and Crystal Glover are the frontcourt starters.
"We're pretty deep," Latu said of Kahuku's balanced scoring attack. "It's a real athletic bunch. Knowing their attitude and what they bring to the table, These girls didn't have to prove anything to me."
McZeen Ale and Nicole Nautu are both seniors who will offer plenty of punch off the bench.
"We try to set the tempo, so we try to run before we even settle down," the coach said. "That's how we went to the championship during my two years on the JV. We have athletes, so we have to go out there and have fun and compete. We're a no-name team with a no-name coach."
On paper: The Bulldogs were 5-4 in nonconference games. Guard Olivia Phommachanh (pronounced Po Ma Chun) is a streaky scorer who is especially tough off the dribble. Ashley Fortson is a consistent, smart player under the boards.
On paper: The Mustangs are ranked No. 10 in the Star-Bulletin Top 10 and could rise higher now with help from Kailua transfer Aui Williams. The junior is only 5-8, but rebounds with the best.
"She battles, she competes," said Hogue, who was a blue-collar forward with UH-Hilo not so long ago.
Williams' sister, Sola, is only a freshman, but has cracked the starting lineup. "She learns quick and she plays hard," Hogue said. "If we just play hard on 'D', we give ourselves a chance to win any game we play."
On paper: The Falcons (9-2) are ranked No. 4 in the Star-Bulletin Top 10, a good sign for a program that struggled until recent years. Already, Kalani has losses to No. 2-ranked Iolani and No. 3 Konawaena, but also has wins over No. 5 Punahou, and in a rematch with Iolani.
Backcourt mainstays Megan Kamehiro, Kacie Gushiken and Chelsea Kimura are steady, while the arrival of Gaddis (La Pietra) and Farm (Kamehameha) give Imanaka the athletic, long athletes perfectly suited for his brand of roundball.
Alison Neussl, a 6-2 transfer from Alaska, is another valuable addition. Her rebounding ability will help Gaddis and Farm get out on the fast break.
MOANALUA NA MENEHUNE
On paper: Na Menehune went 8-4 in nonconference games. Britni Ronolo could be, inch for inch, one of the most effective players in the league. Her skills on the post are remarkable considering she's undersized, but Moanalua can't really afford to let her roam on the perimeter often.
Her sister, Jamie, is the glue in the backcourt and has increased her scoring production this year. She scored 17 points against Iolani and 22 against a solid Punahou II squad.
ROOSEVELT ROUGH RIDERS
On paper: The Rough Riders (7-2) are ranked No. 7 in the Star-Bulletin Top 10. They've beaten a number of OIA Red West teams, as well as Mid-Pacific and Maryknoll of the ILH. The losses were by double-digit margins to No. 2 Iolani and No. 5 Punahou.
Iwalani Rodrigues is a returning All-State Fab 15 guard with impeccable timing and an ability to change speeds on the dribble. The 5-8 junior guard is averaging 18 points and 11 rebounds per game so far.