Lady Cougars Young But De­ter­mined In OIA Bas­ket­ball

MidWeek Islander (East Oahu) - - EAST OAHU SPORTS EAST OAHU ISLANDER / JANUARY 6, 2 - By JACK DANILEWICZ

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.1969@ya­hoo.com.

Kaiser ju­nior Me­leana Adams goes for the layup in a Dec. 23 game against Kahuku. Photo by By­ron Lee, by­ron­lee@mid­week.com.

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