LAHAINA - The names Kaniho and Aotaki have become familiar signage in the rich tradition of youth mentors here on the West Side. Both surnames have come to represent the pay back character of these families that helps promote the sportsmanship and athletic success that continues to grow in the village of Lahaina.
Today, it is Iolani Kaniho leading the Lahaina boys Maui Menehune Basketball League team, and Ian Aotaki heading up the girls program for middle school kids.
An offshoot of the West Maui Youth Basketball League, the County of Maui-sponsored program brings top-level competition for boys and girls of middle school age. Teams travel around the island to match up in hoops action.
The boys team uses its speed to play an up-tempo game.
The Lahaina Girls, coached by Aotaki and assisted by his wife, Cary, and Lady Luna coaches Todd Rickard and Mike Bates, are off and running to a 9-1 start to the 2013 season. The team will be a top seed in the post-season tournament that will take place in early March to decide the overall championship.
The highly talented roster includes eighth-graders Kalena Balingit, Lisa Hafoka and Kalo 'Uhlia; seventh-graders Bonnie Gunn, Tori Tihada, Keiko Aotaki, Braenna Estabillo, Aleiyah Wolf, Sheilaika Agbayani and Rachael Balagso; and sixth-grader Teani Rickard.
"We're a young team, but we played a lot during the summer, and these girls have showed a strong commitment and work ethic to become a better team. They have worked really hard to improve their fundamentals, and I think our defense is tough and our ball handling skills have gotten better," Ian said.
"Overall, we appreciate the opportunity, and it has been a good experience for all of us. The girls have worked hard on and off the court to raise funds to go to Oahu to support the Lady Lunas in the state tournament and to travel to California this summer for a tournament over there."
Kaniho mentors the boys team along with assistant coach Michael Brand.
The lineup is made up of eighth-graders Herzain Cardenas, Matini Perlas Kaai, Jeremi Santos, Tahjan Kruck, Kyle Shultz, Tavake Faleta, Justin Dagupion and Kaya Phillips Aki; seventh-graders Steven Kama, CJ Palma, Carter Stockham and Reeno Pascual; and sixth-grader Sheldon Frias.
Like the girls team, the Lahaina Boys had lost only one game going into last week's final regular season contest to draw a top seed for the championship tournament on Feb. 27 to March 2 at the War Memorial Gymnasium.
"We're a young team, but these boys listen and they hustle," said Coach Kaniho at practice last week on the Lahaina Civic Center floor.
"We play an up-tempo game, man-to-man pressure defense, and we like to spread the court.
"Our thanks goes out to high school coaches John Dudley, Nick Webb and Alec Austin for their help; to Helen Kaai as our team mom; and to Dan Williams and the Westside Basketball organization for their help in supporting the team. It all goes into our goal of meshing with the high school team. It makes for a good future for youth basketball here on the West Side."