The West Side red tide rolls into the 2011 Maui Interscholastic League football season opener with a historic home opener at the “Imu” on campus this Saturday, Aug. 27, as Lahainaluna takes on Na Alii of King Kekaulike. Kickoff is set for 1:30 p.m., preceded by the junior varsity contest between the two schools.
Twenty-one seniors from last season’s MIL Division II championship team have moved on, and the Lunas are reloading with a bevy of freshmen, sophomores, and untested upperclassmen in their drive to stay on top on the Valley Isle.
Only seven seniors return for the 2011 campaign, and only one of them was a starter on last season’s 7-3 team that brought home Lahainaluna’s third consecutive championship and ninth over the last decade.
A high school program seeped in tradition and blessed with a veteran coaching staff with over 150 years of combined experience, Lahainaluna, despite the limitations of inexperience and lack of depth, will indeed challenge for the top spot in the MIL.
Perennial nemesis Baldwin will no doubt be a formidable opponent for the Lunas for overall Maui bragging rights. (The Bears compete in D-I of the MIL with Maui High and King Kekaulike, while the Lunas duke it out with Kamehameha Schools Maui in D-II.).
The Sabers, Na Alii and Warrior teams are all going through coaching staff changes and are still searching for continuity in their programs.
Not so with the winning tradition here on the West Side. Co-head coaches Bobby Watson and Garret Tihada lead a staff that has been around for a long, long time.
The Tihada clan alone has been with Lahainaluna football for 50 years and are represented this season by Coach Garret serving as offensive coordinator and running backs coach Joey Tihada.
Linebackers coach Mike Arakawa has been a Luna mentor with Coach Watson for over 30 years, and his son, Randy Arakawa, leads the Luna receiving corps.
Dean Rickard and Kekoa Mowat take care of the offensive line, while Clifford Corniel coaches the defensive front.
Defensive coordinator Coach Watson’s son, Kenui Watson, guides the defensive backs.
All of these coaches played for Lahainaluna on championship teams as, indeed, the tradition continues.
According to Coach Garret, this Luna team, although short on numbers and experience, is long on work ethic.
“We’re still a little behind, especially on offense, but the thing about this team is that they all work so hard. They always try their best and give it their all, and we are pleased about this,” he said from the sparkling, one-year-old field on campus last week.
“We’ll be conservative on offense due to the youth of the team and some key injuries,” Tihada continued. “We’re trying to expand upon what we do with a flex-bone option offense that we run, usually with two wide outs, but sometimes with a tight end. We have average team speed, so we’ll see what happens.
“Coach Watson’s defense will use both the traditional 4-3, but also a 3-5 alignment in adjusting to what the opponent is doing. The important thing is that this is a very coachable team,” Tihada concluded.
The Lunas will play an eight-game MIL schedule that begins this week against Na Alii, followed by an early season match-up against Baldwin. Maui High and a key game versus D-II rival Kamehameha are next up to end the first half of the regular season.
The Maui County Fair break is next for the MIL teams, followed by the second half of regular season games and playoffs (if necessary) leading into the state championships.
The Lahainaluna High School football team beat the Keaau Cougars from the Big Island by a score of 26-6 in preseason action on Saturday at “The Imu.” The Lunas’ B.J. Pagdilao-Bala (above) carried the ball four times for 28 yards and scored on a 13-yard scamper in the first quarter. Photo by Denton Johnson.