Campbell and McKinley regarded as the teams to beat in the West and East
For ages, the keiki of Ewa had no gym to call their own.
Raw physical talent, no place to hone their basketball skills. Things have changed in recent years, perhaps due in part to the construction a gym at the Boys and Girls Club. The results are clear: Campbell is a popular favorite to win the White West in the Oahu Interscholastic Association.
The season tips off tonight and Campbell has all the pieces in place for coach Nathan Macadangdang. Like the East, the West won't be won easily, however.
Waialua has shown signs of advancing farther than ever for coach Michelle Sales.
"We ran into Waialua a couple of weeks ago on Maui," Macadangdang said. "They're not real big, but they hit five 3-pointers on us. They're as good a team as any that can take the division. They're small, but quick and real disciplined."
In the East, McKinley has arrived from the Red Conference with a new coach, Bob Morikuni (who also coaches the school's boys team), and some of the same standouts in Chelsie Sato and Kaitlyn Ikehara.
"You gotta go with McKinley. They're returning most of their players from last season," Castle coach Jeff McKeown said.
Waianae coach Kevin Nakamoto agreed.
"Just the way they've been competing against some Division I schools in the preseason. They kind of look like they should be a Division I team, actually," he said.
Kaiser, which was a tough team in the Red East two years ago, could be the most entertaining unit in the conference.
On paper: The Sabers were 3-6 in nonconference play, taking on Division I squads Roosevelt, Kalaheo and Farrington early on. A handful of players were busy with postseason soccer play, and getting gym time was tough because the Campbell boys were in the state tourney.
Nobody will feel sorry for the talented Sabers, of course.
Jenny Sweeney, a 6-foot center, is one of two returning starters. Junior forward Vai Confer, at 5-7, can play any of four positions.
On paper: Injuries have derailed the Bulldogs so far, knocking out four players, including two starters.
"I have eight at practice," Sales said.
All-White Conference pick Chelsey Ramirez, a 5-7 senior, led the team in scoring last year and is playing well again.
Waialua is 3-5 in nonconference play,
Kimberly Meyerowitz, a 5-6 junior, is another key player. She's out with a sprained ankle, which followed a knee injury suffered during the state soccer tournament.
Point guard Misty Maxwell gives the Bulldogs patience and court vision. "She's our controller," said Sales, now in her eighth season.
On paper: The Seariders went 4-8 against nonconference foes like Roosevelt, Kalaheo and Iolani -- all ranked in the Top 10.
Third-year starters Danielle Lovell, Melody Moi and Kahea Kelii anchor the squad. Lovell was the second-leading scorer in the White Conference last year. The senior is becoming more of a complete point guard.
"She's getting more teammates involved and running the offense," Nakamoto said. "She's doing that on her own. At times, I want her to shoot more, but it provides us with more balance so teams can't just focus in on her any more."
On paper: Guard Demi Samson and forward Margaret Siligo are Waipahu's returning starters.
Between them, the Marauders have their best ballhandler and best rebounder.
"They score most of our points," said Villarmia, now in her seventh season at the helm.
On paper: The Knights have had ups and downs over recent seasons, but with a trio of third-year players, they could challenge for a state berth. Niki Kobashigawa, Ette Ameperosa and Sarah Phromisiri give Castle experience.
Junior point guard Candace Ames runs the offense.
Castle was 3-6 in nonconference games.
On paper: Kailua went 4-2 in nonconference play, losing close games to Aiea and Moanalua.
They have only two seniors, but the Surfriders have four key returnees who saw significant playing time last year.
All-conference shooting guard Kristen Corrales and point guard Zsalei Kamaka are showing improvement, but like the rest of the team, they're young. Corrales is a junior and Kamaka is a sophomore.
Ashley Jacobs, another sophomore, is another key scorer. "When they're on, they're tough," said Takahashi, now in her 13th season at the helm.
On paper: The Cougars had a light nonconference schedule and went 2-3, including a seven-point loss to Punahou II. "To me, it was more important to have more practice than games," Higuchi said of his young team.
Kaiser's tallest player is 5-6 and there are no returning starters. Point guard Kili Bitanga suffered an ACL injury in the offseason. Chelsea Okuma, a sophomore, is a returnee at point guard. She saw playing time last season behind Bitanga.
Jessie Busch, a swingman, is a key scorer. Okuma and Busch give Kaiser some 3-point range.
On paper: The Tigers, 5-5 in nonconference play, welcome back Sato and Ikehara. Even at 5-6, Sato can play any position and carries a significant load of responsibility as a ballhandler, scorer and rebounder. Ikehara is a streaky perimeter shooter and brings stability to the backcourt.