LAHAINA - The Lahainaluna High School girls basketball team's ninth consecutive Maui Interscholastic League championship - along with the all-sport 87-game winning streak that took the program to those titles - are in the books.
Now it's time for the Lady Lunas to take the giant steps to the state tournament, to turn their attention to the "Big Dance" that takes place this week, Feb. 5-8, in Honolulu.
Lahainaluna teams, guided by the seasoned coaching staff of Todd Rickard, Mike Bates and Ian Aotaki, are no strangers to the girls Division I Hawaii High School Athletic Association state tournament, having reached the final four the last four years and winning it all in 2010.
The squad includes (from left): front — Taylor Bates, Misha Whitehead, Fieme‘a Hafoka, Co-captains Jade Chihara and Amanda Matsuda, Lindsey Bates and Aloha Salem; back — Coach Todd Rickard, Loke Basques, Makana Kaaikala Caban, Petiola Tuakoi, Keleah Koloi, Folau Hafoka, Mina Faaumu, Kyla Blando, Andilyn Alavazo and Coach Mike Bates. Coach Ian Aotaki is not pictured.
But the Lady Lunas of 2013 - albeit an extremely talented and determined group - are a young and relatively inexperienced team with but four seniors on the 15-player roster.
At times this season, they sent a starting lineup onto the floor that included three freshmen and two sophomores, then rotated two juniors and three of the seniors into the game while maintaining the full-court, pressure defense the Lady Lunas have built their success upon.
The bottom line is that this team is a little green, yet they are deep (sometimes substituting five players at a time), athletic and well-conditioned. The question will be, can they put it together to win the championship?
Much of the responsibility to answer that question will rest with the senior leadership of Co-captains Amanda Matsuda and Jade Chihara, as well as All-MIL post player Petiola Tuakoi and injured reserve Makana Kaaikala Caban. All four seniors have state tournament experience, with Matsuda and Chihara playing significant roles over the last two seasons in Honolulu.
Juniors Loke Basques and Misha Whitehead are lightning quick players with tournament experience, as are sophomores Taylor Bates, Lindsey Bates and Folau Hafoka. Classmates Aloha Salem and Mina Faaumu have played significant minutes during the regular season and will no doubt see action in Honolulu.
Perhaps the biggest question mark will be how three Lady Luna freshmen will handle the bright lights of the big city. Center/power forward Keleah Koloi, guard Fieme'a Hafoka and forward Andilyn Alavazo are all ninth-graders that played well beyond their years during the MIL season and will clearly be counted on to contribute in the state tournament.
Lahainaluna will likely receive the fourth seed in the 12-team tournament behind two-time defending champ Konawaena, Kamehameha Schools Kapalama and one of six Oahu Interscholastic Association teams - probably Leleihua, Roosevelt or Mililani. Iolani from the Interscholastic League of Honolulu (ILH) and Hilo from the Big Island Interscholastic Federation round out the D-I participants. The Kauai Interscholastic Federation plays in the Division II bracket.
"This is one of the most talented teams I have ever coached," said Coach Rickard.
"We are deep, and we have worked hard to be in the best condition we can. We are young and lack tournament experience, but we'll do what we have always done - play pressure defense, run the floor and try to score as quickly as possible. I'd really like to thank the community for their support throughout the years - they're the best fans anywhere, and the girls can sense this. It's a whole community thing; when we win, the community wins."
Imua Lahainaluna! Go Lady Lunas!