LAHAINA - The numbers for the 2013 Lahainaluna High School junior varsity football roster are small in comparison to past years, but according to head coach Aloha Kaniho - who's been guiding the Lunas for 17 years - there is a steady spark in the spirit of the current team.
"These boys have a lot of heart - they really want it," he said, as he guided the team through drills up on the Matrix turf at the school's Athletic Field last week.
Indeed, the team usually crowds the field with 75-80 players, but for whatever reason, there are only 48 student athletes on the JV roster this season.
Aloha Kaniho (center), alongside offensive coordinator Nolle Smith, sends the Luna offense through drills last week. Running backs coach Darren Kawahara stands at far left. PHOTO BY WALTER CHIHARA.
"This is the smallest turnout we've ever had," added Coach Aloha. "We're not big, we have average speed, but we're very athletic. And these kids have a tremendous amount of heart. They battle with heart and give their best effort throughout the games. They always give their best, and I'm proud of them for that."
The Luna JV team finished the 2012 Maui Interscholastic League season in second place with a 6-2 record. The squad has completed the first round this year in the middle of the pack with a 2-2 record.
According to Kaniho, all of the Lunas' games were decided by one point, and the two losses came on the games' final plays.
"Every team we play is bigger, and they're deeper than we are, but our boys always battle to the end - so we're always in it to the final whistle," he said.
As always, the junior varsity team strives to prepare the players for the future move up to the varsity. Thus, they run the same drills and the same systems in all phases of the game.
It is a testament to Coach Aloha and his staff of Sonnie Waiohu, Dal Magno, Nolle Smith, Darren Kawahara, Andy Claydon, Chris Pino and Craig Wise that all of the players on the seven-time defending MIL Division II champion Luna varsity - currently the top-rated Division II team in the state - have come up through the junior varsity system mentored by these leaders.
"I am so grateful to all of our coaches, and also to their wives and girlfriends, for their understanding of the commitment required to coach at this level," said Kaniho. "The team is always raw and inexperienced, and so it is these coaches that develop the players into a winning unit. We're also very thankful to the Lahaina community for their undying support of the team - they're the best!
"We've got a handful of returnees that are giving the team great leadership, and we're getting outstanding play from our running backs, defensive backs, and the line is improving on both offense and defense. I think we'll do well in the second round."
The Lunas are currently in their bye week and will kick off the second round at King Kekaulike on Saturday, Oct. 5, followed by match-ups with Kamehameha Maui, Baldwin and Maui High in the homecoming game for Lahainaluna on Oct. 26.