Sports East Oahu

MidWeek Islander (East Oahu) - - FRONT PAGE - By JACK DANILEWICZ

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.1969@ya­

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