Sports East Oahu
Lady Cougars at Kalaheo’s Lee Cashman hoops tourney
The Kaiser girls basketball team definitely qualifies as the mystery team in this year’s OIA Division II format. With the team’s identity tied to its recently graduated seniors Chelsy Okuma and Keely Bitanga for the past three years, the Cougars can’t help but be in transition.
“We lost 80 percent of our scoring from last year, so we’re going to try to do it across the board (production-wise) this time,” Kaiser head coach Simon Bitanga said.
Last season, Bitanga’s first as the head coach, was a breakthrough of sorts for the program, as the Cougars earned their first state tournament appearance since 2005 under longtime coach Lisa Mann. Kaiser took third in the OIA overall behind Kahuku and Kaimuki and won eight of its 12 regular-season contests.
The good news is that while the roster may show youth this season, much of the team has been playing for years, and many for Bitanga by way of his club, Eastsidaz.
“That will keep our foundation pretty strong,” he said. “ These girls have a lot of basketball experience. A lot of the girls who played (varsity) for the first time last year gave us a lot as far as hustling and playing hard. With that year under their belt, we look more mature.”
Even so, two relative newcomers to the lineup could have a huge impact early. One is Kalaheo transfer Mele Adams, who played with Eastsidaz over the summer when the club brought a pair of teams to Oregon to participate in the prestigious End of the Trail National Tournament, and who has two years of eligibility remaining. Also in the fold is Bitanga’s daughter, Micaela, a 5-foot-9 freshman who is slated to be in the starting lineup.
“Mele lives and dies to play basketball — it’s what she wants to do,” Bitanga said. “She sees the court well in addition to being a great defender. “Micaela has some size, and she can run the floor. She gives us options, and she should be one of our leaders.”
Sophomore Krysta Yasui also figures to play a big role after a solid off-season, in Bitanga’s view.“She’s aggressive and not scared to make mistakes. She’ll also do well on the defensive end if she hasn’t scored on the offensive end.”
Also in Bitanga’s plans are Daryn Vorderbrugge, Hailey Durham, Shelby Pa, Kiana Nakai and Nikki Taylor. In addition to Adams from Kalaheo, the Cougars also added transfers in both Kristi Arrelano ( Sacred Hearts) and Kiani Kaahanui (Mid-Pacific).
Bitanga expects Kaiser to be challenged in the preseason with his team set to take part in this week’s Lee Cashman Tournament at Kalaheo and another at Farrington Dec. 10, 11 and 12. The Cougars play their first-round game at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Kalaheo versus Maryknoll. Their opponent for Thursday and Friday will be determined by the bracket. Kaiser’s OIA opener is set for Dec. 17 at home against Kaimuki in a highly-anticipated matchup. A re-match will take place at Kaimuki in mid-January.
Bitanga saw Eastsidaz’s summer trip to Oregon as good preparation for the ultra-competitive atmosphere that figures to define the OIA’s Division II race this year.
“It was good for us,” he said. “Play on the Mainland is way above local style. We were beyond our limit there. We played against guards who were 6-4, which is something you don’t see down here.”
Contact Jack Danilewicz at Jackster.email@example.com