Lady Cougars Young But Determined In OIA Basketball
Scan the Kaiser girls basketball roster, and underclassmen can be found throughout, but to hear head coach Simon Bitanga tell it, the future is right now.
“We’re young, and we keep telling them that if we stay with it, we’ll be very successful in the future,” said Bitanga, whose team began its OIA White Conference season at 04. “But I’m not thinking (in terms of) during their junior and senior years. I’m thinking in two or three weeks.”
The Cougars’ youth has been tested by a big-time schedule that included Kaimuki (twice), Kahuku, Kalaheo, Leilehua and Kahuku as their first six contests. All of those schools are stocked with veterans. The by-prod- uct of their brutal slate, however, has been the opportunity to better themselves by way of solid competition, according to their coach. Six games in two weeks has also compounded an already difficult schedule.
“We just have to play through it,” Bitanga said. “We’re getting better every day and making a lot of progress. There’s a lot of basketball experience on the team; we’re just not jelling at this time. We did lose 80 percent of our scoring (from 2008-09), and we’ve had to have some girls step up, and some of them have. Everyone on the team is going to help us.”
Junior transfer Meleana Adams, previously of Kalaheo, and the coach’s daughter, freshman Micaela Bitanga, have become team-leaders in the early going and figure to press for All-Conference honors by season’s end. Adams is the starting point guard, while Bitanga can play all five positions.
“Mele is doing a very good job,” Bitanga said of Adams, who scored 22 points in Kaiser’s loss to Kaimuki last week. “She’s a scorer and a real slasher to the hole. She’s very competitive and basketball-minded.
“Micaela sees the court well — she’s going to do a lot of good things for us. She gained a lifetime worth of experience growing up around (older sister and former Kaiser standout) Keely (Bitanga). Defensively, she’s very vocal out there, trying to get people here or there. That is her strong point, which is good. Defense is what I’m focused on, too.”
On that note, Bitanga is hoping to tighten up the team’s defense, pointing out that Kahuku put up 80 on Kaiser in the Red Raiders’ 8063 loss on Dec. 23.
“We also scored 63 ourselves, and we’re getting turnovers off of our pressure. But the other teams are getting points off of our turnovers, too. We have to play better defense.
“Scoring hasn’t been an issue, but defense has been an issue. We live and die with our ball pressure.”
The Cougars’ starting lineup has included Hailey Durham, Krysta Yasui and Shelby Pa in addition to Micaela Bitanga and Adams lately. But Kiana Nakai, Nikki Taylor, Kristi Arrelano, Daryn Vorderbrugge and Kiani Kaahanui also are key components in the Kaiser rotation.
Like Micaela Bitanga, Taylor is only a freshman, but figures to see her role expand over time. “She’s learning a whole lot,” Bitanga said of Taylor, who is 6-foot-2.
Next up for the Cougars is a home date Wednesday with Waialua, which was 1-2 through its first three regularseason games. A second matchup with Kalaheo (Kaiser dropped a 57-45 decision to the Mustangs in the teams’ first meeting recently) follows Friday night at home. Both games begin at approximately 7 p.m.
“They’re doing a good job on their side from what I’m seeing,” Bitanga said of Waialua. “We cannot take anyone lightly. We have to play our game.”
Waialua defeated Nanakuli 52-42 for its only league win, while dropping games to Waipahu (49-41) on the road and Leilehua (66-34) at home.
Contact Jack Danilewicz at Jackster.email@example.com.
Kaiser junior Meleana Adams goes for the layup in a Dec. 23 game against Kahuku. Photo by Byron Lee, firstname.lastname@example.org.