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Luna basketball team to focus on tough defense

By Staff | Dec 24, 2015

The team includes (from left): front row — Jerami Santos, Cley Josef Palma, Iverson Turno, Reece Pascua, Herzain Cardenas and Bitoy Guerrero; back row — Tavake Faleta, Carver Locke, Gage Johnson, Kalalani Kaaikala, Aukai Kama and Kevin Lammer.

LAHAINA – With teams across the board returning deep and talented rosters this season, the 2015 Maui Interscholastic League Boys Division I basketball championship race looks to be a wide open affair.

According to second-year Lahainaluna head coach Jason Justus, Baldwin, Maui High, King Kekaulike and Kamehameha Schools Maui all will contend for supremacy on the Valley Isle. And – make no mistake about it – the young and scrappy Lunas will be in the mix as well.

Coach Justus, who will be assisted by Freddie Baisa, Kalei Houpo, and junior varsity coach Alec Austin, noted that 98 percent of the offense that propelled the Luna team to a 26-3 overall record and an MIL championship in his first year at the helm of the program is gone to graduation. That season included a stirring run to a fifth place result at the Hawaii High School Athletic Association State Championship Playoff Tournament, where the Lunas knocked off the top-ranked teams for the school’s best finish in recent memory.

The scoring from that team might be gone for the current Lunas, but Coach Justus insists that the success of this season rests in the defense.

“That’s where it all starts,” he said last week from the floor of the Jimmie H. Greig Gymnasium on the Lahainaluna campus. “We’ll mix things up on the defensive end – do some new things that haven’t been seen before while we work to define ourselves as a team. We are athletic and long, so we will close up the floor with that length and wingspan to make it difficult to get to the basket.

The 20th annual Lahainaluna Invitational basketball tournament was held Dec. 17-21 at Lahaina Civic Center. Here, the Lunas lost to the Lee High School Generals from Alabama by a 51-38 score. The Lunas open up Maui Interscholastic League regular season play on Dec. 23. PHOTO BY GLEN PASCUAL.

“We have struggled thus far to find our identity and consistency – to find what we’re made of. But I can promise you that we will be strong defensively. Our shots won’t be there every night, but the defense has to be.”

Leading the Luna effort will be co-captains Kalalani Kaaikala, a senior post player, and junior point guard Jerami Santos, along with returnees in senior Kevin Lammer and juniors Carver Locke and Gage Johnson. Rounding out the roster are juniors Tavake Faleta and Herzain Zakata, and sophomores Aukai Kama, Iverson Turno and Cley Josef Palma.

“We’ve had a rigorous preseason with the Radford Tournament in Honolulu and our Lahainaluna Invitational here on Maui, and we hope it is to our advantage and the kids grow up fast,” Justus continued to say.

“We still have a long road to go, and we must find leadership and the will to win. We are inexperienced – but we do have a lot of talent – and we need to execute, figure out our strengths and express our will to get ready to go.”

The Lunas open up MIL regular season play on Dec. 23 and will play a 12-game schedule to the postseason tournament that will determine the league’s two slots to the HHSAA state tournament in Honolulu slated for early March.

“We are truly grateful to the Lahaina community; they are unbelievable with their support for us. And specifically, the Westside Hoops organization led by Dan Williams and Genevieve Ruvald has been outstanding with their support for the team,” concluded Coach Justus.