Warriors eye elite status
For Waiakea, the goal is clear: join, if not surpass, Kona and Hilo
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
3:30 Waiakea JV vs Hilo JV 5:00 Hilo vs Iolani 6:30 Kona vs MPI 8:00 Waiakea vs Mililani
3:30 Waiakea JV vs Keaau JV 5:00 Kona vs Mililani 6:30 Hilo vs MPI 8:00 Waiakea vs Iolani
Waiakea coach Brandon Kauhi calls sophomore point guard Kelsie Imai his best player. For