LAHAINA - For decades, the Lahaina Girls team of the Maui County Menehune Basketball League has helped pave the way to the unprecedented success of the Lahainaluna High School hoops program. Year in and year out, the sixth- to eighth-graders have honed their skills under the watchful eyes of the Lunas' coaching staff, especially Derrick Akamine, who serves double duty as the Lahaina Girls mentor and an assistant to Todd Rickard with the high school team.
Now, the Lahaina Boys of the Menehune Division have moved up into those upper tiers guided by longtime leader Iolani Kaniho. Three years ago, the team swept the opposition aside in racing to an undefeated season and the league championship. That roster was dominated by eighth-graders, so the ensuing years saw a roster of newcomers to the program take their lumps for two bruising seasons.
Along the way, the Luna boys team has ascended to three consecutive Maui Interscholastic League championships and state final four appearances under Coach Jason Justus.
Both the Lahaina Girls and Lahaina Boys reached the Maui County Menehune Basketball League finals this season.
That has all changed in the current campaign, as the 2017 Lahaina Boys raced to an undefeated, 24-0 season, capped off with a 48-33 victory over Kahului in the championship final two weeks ago at the War Memorial Gymnasium. The Lahaina Girls also reached the championship finals but lost a heartbreaker to Kahului, 32-31.
The Boys, led by Coach Kaniho and assistants Jason Donez, Ferdinand Palma, Johnny Ramos, Luke Williams and Jake Williams, dominated the league with a top-heavy roster made up of primarily eighth-graders.
Over the two previous seasons, Treven "Sleepy" Tihada, Kala'i Storer, Joaquin Donez, Paulo Evangelista, Tre "Hello" Rickard, TJ "Da Hammer" Galoia, Caleb Cajudoy, Tobey Mizuno and AJ Bianco developed into a precision team that clearly dominated the MMBL in their final season at this level. Seventh-grader Denver Duque and sixth-grader Cash Palma round out the roster and will be the only returnees for next year.
The Lahaina Girls' roster, guided by Coach Derrick, assistant Jason Donez along with Ian Aotaki and Coach Todd from the Lady Lunas, was more balanced, but the youthful inexperience may have had something to do with the team's inability to close out the championship final after leading that contest for most of the game.
Eighth-graders Abigail Akamine, Teani Buenconsejo, Shaelia Pascua, Ashley Akamine and Kiera Kaniho formed the experienced leadership core for the team in their third year in the program. They were joined by sixth-graders Meliame Taufa, Taimane Faleafine Auwae, Patricia Haufekai and Margie Ann Sana to round out the roster.
With both the Lahainaluna boys and girls teams winning MIL titles and advancing to the final four of the state playoffs in the recently concluded season, it is safe to conclude that they will continue their winning ways with the influx of skilled student athletes from the Lahaina Menehune League programs.
Coach Kaniho and Coach Akamine expressed their gratitude to the County of Maui Parks and Recreation Department for its support of the league. And, both youth leaders recognized the steadfast backing of the Lahaina community, particularly the families of the players, in the success of their teams. The tradition continues.