War­riors eye elite sta­tus

For Wa­iakea, the goal is clear: join, if not sur­pass, Kona and Hilo

Hawaii Tribune Herald - - SPORTS - By MATT GER­HART

Trips to Las Ve­gas and days at the beach might sound like a good time, but they’re proof of com­mit­ment to a higher stan­dard for Wa­iakea’s girls bas­ket­ball team.

There is no hard­ware to show for it, of course, but the War­riors – with all their wide-eyed fresh­men ex­pected to be­come triedand-true sopho­mores – might have won the BIIF off­sea­son.

“The com­mit­ment was great, I’m not go­ing to lie,” coach Bran­don Kauhi. “The girls com­mit­ted all sum­mer.” And be­yond. All but three girls on the ros­ter were with the team dur­ing the sum­mer, and for point guard Kelsie Imai and her team­mates that meant tour­na­ments in Sin City, run­ning in the sand and do­ing drills at the beach and a near year-round ded­i­ca­tion to bas­ket­ball.

Coaches are al­lowed to work with their play­ers for 10-plus months a year – save for two black­out pe­ri­ods – and Imai said she and most of her team­mates were with their coaches for all 10, even if they played other sports.

“Even dur­ing soft­ball sea­son, I would go to (bas­ket­ball) af­ter soft­ball,” Imai said. “I feel like were all im­proved, be­cause we’ve worked at it. We’re re­ally young, but we’re work­ing hard.”

Wa­iakea laid the foun­da­tion for big­ger things to come in Kauhi’s first sea­son at the helm. Wa­iakea went 8-3 in 2016-17, and two of those losses came by one point against Hilo, in­clud­ing a heart-breaker in the BIIF semi­fi­nals that kept the War­riors from se­cur­ing their first strip to the HHSAA Di­vi­sion I tour­na­ment since 2012.

The losses to Vik­ings still make Kauhi wince, though he stops just short of say­ing a 51-46 home de­feat at the hands of Kon­awaena, the nine-time BIIF cham­pion and three-time state champ, to end the reg­u­lar sea­son was a good loss.

He does, how­ever, draw a line in the sand.

Last sea­son, moral vic­to­ries were al­lowed. This sea­son, not so much. “We use that as mo­ti­va­tion,” Kauhi said of the BIIF semi­fi­nal loss. “We don’t want to feel the way we felt.

“We can fall back on our depth. I’m still con­fused with who is go­ing to start. It’s a good prob­lem for me to have. I tell the girls to just com­pete. Prac­tices have been great. Day in, day out battling it out.”

Two then-se­nior starters de­parted, but Wa­iakea fig­ures to have gained much more than it lost through the ad­di­tional ex­pe­ri­ence gained by Imai and fel­low sopho­mores Keeli-Jade Smith, Bethany Honma and Keani Midel, as well as the ad­di­tion of fresh­man Jazelle Dorser.

All four of the sopho­mores could start along with ju­nior Madi­son Hwang, and in some re­spects the se­nior­less War­riors will go as far as 5-foot-6 Imai takes them.

“By far, Kelsie is our best player,” Kauhi said. “She does ev­ery­thing for us. She runs the point, she gets ev­ery­one in­volved. Look­ing at her as a cap­tain and lead­ing the team.

“She’s a joy to coach. She does very well in tran­si­tion with her speed and ath­leti­cism.”

Midel, 5-5, didn’t make the fresh­man im­pact that some of her team­mates did, but Kauhi cred­its her for a strong off­sea­son and sig­nals her out as a player Wa­iakea can rely on for scor­ing.

Strong back­court play is pre­req­ui­site for com­pet­ing with Kon­awaena and Hilo – the five­time BIIF run­ner-up – Kauhi said, but he thinks a strong in­side game is what could sep­a­rate the War­riors from the pack this sea­son, es­cpeclly as the War­riors try to func­tion bet­ter in half-court sets.

Homna and Hwang are both 5-6 for­wards, Smith is 5-8 and the 5-8 Dorser pro­vides a phys­i­cal pres­ence, ei­ther off the bench or as even­tu­ally as a starter.

“They are not tow­er­ing, but they play the po­si­tion well,” Kauai said. “With Keeli and Madi, were happy with the ro­ta­tion at (power for­ward) and (cen­ter).

“I think the post pres­ence will be to our ad­van­tage.”

Sopho­more guard Keighsha Walker trans­ferred from Honokaa and of­fers a spark off the bench, as do guards Claire Kaneshiro, a ju­nior, and Kayla Iwata, a sopho­more.

“They fit in well,” Imai said of new­com­ers such as Dorser, Walker and Iwata, who played ju­nior var­sity last sea­son.

Whomever Kauai calls upon, Wa­iakea likely will meet his goal of be­ing bat­tle-tested thanks to a 13-game pre­sea­son that con­tin­ues with the War­riors tour­na­ment Thurs­day-Satur­day at their gym.

Hilo and Kon­awaena also are in the field, but the three BIIF teams will con­cen­trate on play­ing a strong field of Oahu teams: Iolani, which lost to the Wild­cats by just five points last week­end on Oahu; Mililani, an HHSAA D-I quar­ter­fi­nal­ist last sea­son; and de­fend­ing D-II state cham­pion Mid-Pa­cific.

Kauai said the War­riors would face the Wild­cats and Vik­ings later in the pre­sea­son at Hilo’s tour­na­ment.

“I think it’s go­ing to be a very good year,” Imai said. “We just need to be more dis­ci­plined and we can’t set­tle.

“We’re re­ally strong, though we have a re­ally young team.”

Wa­iakea bas­ket­ball tour­na­ment Thurs­day

3:30 Wa­iakea JV vs Honokaa JV 5:00 Mililani vs Hilo 6:30 Kona vs Iolani 8:00 Wa­iakea vs Mid-Pa­cific

Fri­day

3:30 Wa­iakea JV vs Hilo JV 5:00 Hilo vs Iolani 6:30 Kona vs MPI 8:00 Wa­iakea vs Mililani

Satur­day

3:30 Wa­iakea JV vs Keaau JV 5:00 Kona vs Mililani 6:30 Hilo vs MPI 8:00 Wa­iakea vs Iolani

RICK OGATA photo

Wa­iakea coach Bran­don Kauhi calls sopho­more point guard Kelsie Imai his best player. For

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