OIA East should
again be competitive


Last year was a tough time to be an average girls basketball team in the Oahu Interscholastic Association.

First, budget cuts early in the school season cut the playoffs significantly. Only four teams qualified from each division, though the league as a whole still had four state berths.

On top of that, though, the field of OIA teams was large. Trying to secure one of the four state berths out of a 22-team league was daunting. Still, for a second year in a row, the East swept through the playoffs and the OIA did not have a West representative.

This season, with the new Division I and II format, odds have improved drastically. All but one team in each of the West and East Divisions will qualify for the playoffs. And for the 14 teams in OIA Division I, five state berths are available.

That number increased from four when Laupahoehoe dropped out of the Big Island Interscholastic Federation basketball schedule. That tilted the formula numbers in favor of the OIA.

For fans, the benefit of the new format's home-and-away play is a throwback to the 1970s and '80s, when it was a normal part of scheduling. That means more tweaking for coaches, more rivalry for fans, and more intensity between longtime neighbors in Honolulu and Windward Oahu.

"I think it's great," Kalaheo coach Chico Furtado said. "There are going to be more adjustments for coaches when they play that second game."

In the highly competitive East, Kalaheo may have the best returning core of talent. Taylor Smith, a 5-foot-10 senior, is healthy again after rehabilitating a foot injury that sidelined her for most of last season. Guards Shanadee Canon and Shantel Marumoto solidify a back court that is arguably the best in the East.

Kaiser also has a solid nucleus back. Sharde Pratt and Kilioe Aliifua give the Lady Cougars perhaps the best 1-2 inside combination in the East, while Sacred Hearts transfer Nicole Lehner is a valuable defender and slasher.

Defending league champion Kahuku has struggled with ballhandling in nonconference games, which isn't surprising after the loss of Karla Tailele and Monarisa Ale to graduation. The Lady Raiders have still been a force, however, thanks to the inside play of senior Aisha Ale.


The teams

Here's a look at the big East, team by team:


Coach: Jenic Tumaneng
On paper: Tumaneng, a longtime coach, came into the season without lofty expectations. The play of his guard-heavy team has been a pleasant surprise through February and early March. Last year's team went 7-4 in league play (10-8 overall) only to be denied a playoff berth because of the budget cuts.
The skinny: How will the Lady Governors adjust without cornerstone Sunshine Misa-Uli? Tumaneng believes they have the will and toughness to succeed. One of their early wins came against Iolani.
X factor: As always, the Govs can go up-tempo, but the risk is in committing turnovers. That was an Achilles' heel for last year's team, and it could make the difference between a state berth and an early exit.


Coach: Wendy Anae
On paper: Not many programs can withstand the losses of great talent and still compete at the highest level like Kahuku. Center Latoya Wily, forward Monarisa Ale and guard Tailele all left and are playing college sports. Wily's Alcorn State squad made the Big Dance. Still, in the past three weeks, the Lady Raiders pushed No. 1 Punahou hard in a 57-50 loss and later defeated seventh-ranked Kamehameha 54-46.
The skinny: This year's starters are mostly players who were reserves in the past. Aisha Ale, a tough, strong 5-9 senior, is the heart of this year's squad. As she goes, so go the Lady Raiders. They have no choice but to improve their ballhandling against full-court pressure, though. Using a press, Iolani rallied from eight points down to win, 52-47, in a matchup at the Punahou Wahine Spring Classic. And Kahuku had big problems against smaller, quick teams like Radford and Roosevelt in last week's Lady Mustang Classic.
Matching last year's 10-1 regular season will be difficult in the East unless the Lady Raiders take care of the ball down the stretch.
X factor: Ale can't do it alone. Camilla Ah-Hoy and Tina Soliai are terrific athletes who will make the difference for Kahuku. The addition of softball standout Kamaile Hughes, a 5-11 center, has helped immensely on the boards. If her offense improves, Ale will become even more effective. Even with their shortcomings, Kahuku is 6-2 in nonconference play and ranked fourth in the state.


Coach: Lisa Mann
On paper: The Lady Cougars went 6-3 in nonconference play, struggling last week in their last two games of the Lady Tiger Challenge. They lost leads against Kamehameha (double overtime) and Lahainaluna (overtime).
Yet, with Pratt, a tremendously athletic power forward, and Aliifua, Kaiser is usually dominant under the glass. They are a Top 10 team talent-wise, but the one weak spot is a resource most teams have in abundance: consistent guard play.
The skinny: The addition of Lehner gives Kaiser a quick, versatile and long-armed 5-8 player on the wing. However, the graduation of point guard Shera Yamamoto hurts. Her court leadership and skills are missed.
X factor: The return of guard Kehau Bangay midway through preseason was a huge boost for the Lady Cougars. Her understanding and savvy, as well as her scoring ability, settled down Kaiser's offense. She's still not 100 percent healed from a knee injury, but her mere presence is a big plus. Kaiser has a chance to improve on last year's 9-2 league record -- it won't be easy.


Coach: Chico Furtado
On paper: Without Smith, the Lady Mustangs were fourth in the OIA last season after entering league play as one of the favorites. Smith, however, has been scintillating this season. Even with their returnees, Kalaheo has been prone to turnover problems against high-pressure defenses. Still, they're 7-3 and ranked No. 5.
The skinny: Furtado guided Kalaheo to five straight league crowns from 1998 to 2002. The Lady Mustangs will need more than Smith and Canon, a versatile, quick combo guard, to claim another title. Juniors Kaliko Kepa (5-9) and Kathleen Hicks (6-0) are improving steadily this season.
X factor: Shaina Siliga, a 5-6 senior, is often an emotional barometer of where the Lady Mustangs are headed. When she hits her jumper early, they often get on big runs. If she misses early, the offense sometimes grinds to a near-halt. Kalaheo needs steady, consistent focus from Siliga if a title run is in store.


Coach: Jesse Victorino
On paper: The Lady Tigers have skilled guards in Chelsie Sato, who plays out of position at forward, and Moanalua transfer Kaitlyn Ikehara. Sato, only a sophomore, is a rugged rebounder and smooth scorer with 3-point range. Ikehara can pull up and launch treys as far as 24 feet out. Ikehara sat out McKinley's game with Kamehameha on Saturday because of a foot injury.
The skinny: Last season, McKinley placed fourth in the East before knocking out West No. 1 Radford to secure a state berth. This year's team is far more patient and deliberate than recent Victorino squads. Because of guard play, the Lady Tigers are capable of melting minutes off the clock with a single possession. That's a good thing because McKinley doesn't have a player over 5-8.
X factor: McKinley went 7-4 in nonconference games, a good sign for a team that has only one senior. Two talented freshmen could help significantly: Pearly Togiai (5-6) and Crystal Tafai (5-6). Togiai is a deft ballhandler who can slash to the basket, while Tafai is a post player with good instincts on the boards. If the East comes down to final-minute execution, the Lady Tigers could wind up as a surprise team near the top.


Coach: Rick Gonsalves
On paper: The Menehunes are young, lost a senior leader to a divisional foe, and aren't very tall. Somehow, though, they've been competitive and then some. Mesha Macadangdang and Jade Miller are quality guards, while freshman Britni Ronolo has been a nice surprise for coach Gonsalves.
The skinny: Without a player over 5-8, Moanalua is relying heavily on hustle plays and defensive intensity to stay in games. They have progressed gradually in preseason. At last week's First Hawaiian Bank Lady Menehune Peek tourney, Moanalua routed Waialua before losing to Sacred Hearts 32-23. The Menehunes stayed close with Mid-Pacific for three quarters, but wound up losing by 17.
X factor: Terina Blue, at 5-6, is a key part of the Menehunes' hopes. If she contributes consistently, Gonsalves may find a way to sneak this young team into the playoffs.


Coach: Bobby Keanini
On paper: At one point in the preseason, the Rough Riders were rolling. They won their first five games and then the injuries mounted. Starters Nicole Yoshimoto (knee) and Tati Beasley (ankle) missed the latter part of the nonconference schedule. Even center Shannon Miyashiro missed time due to a flu.
The skinny: Injuries to the starters meant valuable playing time for reserves. Assuming Yoshimoto and Beasley return on schedule next week, Roosevelt can still make a strong run. And its bench will be strong. With the three starters out, the Rough Riders nearly upset Kahuku, and edged Pearl City in overtime. Matching last year's 7-4 regular-season mark might be tough in the East, but it's certainly possible.
X factor: Keanini is one of the most demanding coaches in the league, but his ability to extract effort is unsurpassed. Dianna Zane, a freshman, hit the winning shot against Pearl City. Senior guard Chelsie Kadota has stepped up her game. Last year's state Division II champion could surprise a lot of non-believers before the OIA playoffs are done.


E-mail to Sports Desk


© Honolulu Star-Bulletin -- https://archives.starbulletin.com