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State champion Lady Lunas basketball team a work in progress

By Staff | Dec 16, 2010

The team includes (from left): front — Jade Chihara, Paige Casil, Hiilei Bacalso, Erika Tita Erickson and Amanda Matsuda; back row — Nia Pasikala, Haley Nakamura, Petiola Tuakoi, Maiki Viela and Ana Lauese. Moana Hafoka, Loke Rosenthal and Melissa Francis are also on the team. Photo by Walter Chihara.

LAHAINA — It is one of the most intriguing scenarios in sports at any level. When a team climbs to the top of the mountain to fulfill the ultimate championship dream, the stage is set in the ensuing years for tests of perseverance and continuity of that sterling effort.

So, here we go with the 2010-11 basketball season for the Lady Lunas of Lahainaluna High School — the defending Hawaii High School Athletic Association state champions.

The Lahainaluna team, under the guidance of veteran head coach Todd Rickard, raced to a 17-0 record in that title run, knocking off interscholastic powerhouses Punahou and Konawaena en route to the Maui Interscholastic League’s first state championship in girls basketball.

But that dream season is history — albeit a memorable and cherished chapter in the annals of Lahainaluna High School — and, as Coach Rickard puts it, “It is time for this team to find its own identity.”

And, with injuries and the departure through graduation of Malika Taufa — the all-everything post player for not only that championship team but in all of her four years wearing Luna red — and stalwart starters Lahela Akima and Maika Cabrera, that is proving to be no easy task. Just returning to form last week with the team, as they tipped off the season and the Lady Lunas began the climb toward their seventh consecutive MIL title, was Gatorade player of the year Maiki Viela, who has been battling a sore back throughout the summer as a point guard with Team Taurasi on the Mainland and rehabbing during the fall.

Viela, who last month signed with Division I Gonzaga, led the team last season in scoring, assists and steals, as well as handling the ball as the Lady Lunas’ press breaker. A run to a repeat appearance at the state tournament most assuredly runs through her shoes.

The team identity also will fine tune its focus through returning senior starters Hiilei Bacalso and Ana Lauese. The lightening quick Bacalso is the back court mate of Viela, while the multitalented Lauese dominates down low and will be counted on heavily to check the opposition’s bigger players.

These three will be counted on for leadership by Rickard and assistant coaches Ian Aotaki, Eddie Pamat and Casey Brummel.

The remainder of the roster, and primarily senior Erika Tita Erickson; junior Paige Casil; sophomores Petiola Tuakoi, Haley Nakamura, Jade Chihara and Amanda Matsuda, along with Nia Pasikala, Moana Hafoka, Loke Rosenthal and Melissa Francis, will battle for playing time within the team’s eight- to ten-player game rotation.

“You know how the saying goes,” explained Coach Todd last week from the floor of the Jimmie H. Greig Gymnasium on the Lahainaluna campus.

“It’s hard to win, and even tougher to defend a title. This is a different team, and we’ve had our setbacks with injuries and things like that. We’ve been missing players here and there in practice, and then we’re inexperienced to begin with. We’re a small, guard-oriented team, and we’re still searching for that cohesive unit. It’ll take time.”

What Rickard can count on, however, is the heart and competitive spirit of this team.

“They have the determination, the positive energy to win, and you have to have this to be successful. Our strength is in our guards — they are talented, quick and we have lots of them. But, in our style of play — we will emphasize pressure defense this year and movement on offense — we have to have strong spirit. These girls have that,” he said.

Coach Todd went on to explain that the team really doesn’t have that many pure shooters, so they will have to create high percentage scoring opportunities through turnovers and fast breaks.

“The important thing is that these girls all work hard and give everything they have. Because of this, I have the utmost respect and trust for them. I know they would go through a wall for us,” he commented.

“Our success is a community effort. With the quality youth program run by Don Rosenthal and through the Menehune program being led by Mike Bates and Kent Aotaki, the pathway is there for a successful high school team. I know that the community backs us up, and that this team will always give 110 percent. So no matter if we win it all or not, I’ll be satisfied with the effort this team has put in.”