Speedy Hiilei Bacalso joins the U.H. Rainbow Wahine hoops team
LAHAINA – Standing – and stretching it a bit – 2011 Lahainaluna High School graduate Hiilei Bacalso measures 5’2″ tall, or short, depending on where you might catch her.
These days, she spends most of her time on the basketball court on the University of Hawaii at Manoa campus, so she looks quite small out there among the Division I Rainbow Wahine.
You might even miss catching a glimpse of the petite former Lady Luna standout due to her stature, or, moreover, because she’s one of the quickest players on the recently announced 14-player U.H. Manoa 2013-14 roster.
In her four years playing for Lahainaluna – which included the hoops dreams of a state championship, undefeated regular seasons and all-star selections – 20-year-old Bacalso established a reputation as one of the quickest players to ever don a Lady Luna uniform.
She gained nicknames such as “Speedy Gonzalez” and “Roadrunner” competing in Coach Todd Rickard’s fierce, full-court defense that has taken the program to the top of the Hawaii High School Athletic Association girls basketball rankings.
“Yeah, the coach (U.H. Rainbow Wahine Head Coach Laura Beeman) had to tell me to slow down,” giggled Bacalso last week in a phone interview.
“This has been really exciting to get to this point and be a part of the team (Bacalso is a redshirt sophomore this year) and be a member of the 14-player roster. But I know I have a lot of work to do in the future to make this work.”
Bacalso, the eldest of Germaine and Steven Bacalso’s three children, walked on to the BYU Hawaii team after graduating from Lahainaluna and will sit out this season to keep her three years of eligibility with U.H.
“I’m still working things out, but I’m hoping to go into Pacific Island Studies as a major focus. I’m just really happy for this opportunity. There might be a chance that some of the costs for going to school here will be taken care of, so that’s really exciting. But I have to prove myself to the coaches for that to happen,” she said.
Hiilei had been playing in pick-up games on the U.H. campus throughout the year, and several Rainbow Wahine players were impressed by her quickness and defensive ferocity.
Team captain Shawna Lei Kuehu was one who noticed Bacalso’s abilities and relayed that information to the coaching staff.
“Shawna Lei really helped me out with getting noticed by the U.H. staff, so I am really grateful to her for that,” said Hiilei.
Young Bacalso now joins an illustrious group of Lahainaluna graduates that have parlayed their basketball talent developed in the West Maui youth leagues at the Lahaina Civic Center and up the hill with the Lady Lunas into the opportunity to play Division I hoops and receive a topnotch education.
She follows recent grads Milika Taufa (Indiana) and Maiki Viela (Gonzaga), along with Aina Kohler (U.H. Manoa) from further back in the team’s history, as West Side student athletes that have made this opportunistic leap forward in their lives.