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Undefeated Lahainaluna boys basketball team focusing on defense

By Staff | Jan 24, 2019

The team includes (from left): front — Tre Rickard, Malino Jacinto, Juztin Gaorian, Reece Pascua, Josh Tihada and John Flores; back row —Tui Lai, TJ Galoia, Sam Fifita, Miki Tufuga and Mathew Rabino. Hunter Higdin is not pictured.

LAHAINA – After four consecutive Maui Interscholastic League championships and top six finishes at the Hawaii High School Athletic Association state tournament, it is safe to say that Lahainaluna High School boys basketball head coach Jason Justus is a winner.

Under the mentorship of Coach Justus, now into his fifth year at the helm, the Luna boys have nearly risen to the level of the Lahainaluna girls – for over a decade considered the top program on the Valley Isle and also a premiere team on the state level led by head coach Todd Rickard.

“We’ve always tried to emulate what Coach Todd’s teams represent,” said Justus. And indeed they have, led by a coaching staff made up of assistants Rachel Kane, Kalei Haopu, Alec Austin and Fred Baisa, with Coach Justus leading the way.

In the current campaign, the Luna boys have stretched their unbeaten MIL record to 25 straight and come into the second half of the 2018-19 season with a firm grip on the league race and a full head of steam going into the state playoffs slated for the end of February in Honolulu.

Coach Justus doesn’t hesitate when asked to describe the strength of the team.

“We have strong leadership that comes from Reece Pascua,” he said last week at the Lunas’ shoot-around in the Jimmie H. Greig Gymnasium on campus. “Reece is a dynamic, physical leader on the court. As a team, we stress defense, which we feel is the cornerstone of the program.”

The Lunas play pressure defense, mostly man-to-man, to force mistakes and make their opponents uncomfortable. On offense, they will employ motion attacks and penetration with kick-outs, and depend on their guards to get the team going at both ends of the court.

In past seasons, the question concerning the Luna boys was, “Where’s the beef?” That query no longer exists, as several wide bodies from the Lahainaluna state championship football team have moved from the turf to the hardcourt to beef up the Lunas basketball roster.

“Now, we have some beef in the post,” Justus chuckles. “Our roster is half football players and half basketball players.”

Leading the way on the inside is three-year player Miki Tufuga along with four-year senior Hunter Higdin, juniors Tui Lai, Mathew Rabino and Sam Fifita, and sophomore TJ Galoia. All are at least six feet tall and tip the scales at more than 220 pounds.

In the backcourt, Pascua leads the way at the point guard position backed up by sophomore Tre Rickard – another gridiron addition. Josh Tihada is another stalwart in the backcourt who shines on the gridiron and is joined by guards John Flores, a transfer from the Philippines, and forwards Juztin Gaoiran and Malino Jacinto.

Team managers are Nicki Liwanag, Taryn Cabingas, Hoku Godoy, Shanel Mangaoang and Lexi Andaya. Videographers are Zachary Williams and Lexi Justus.

Coach Justus also recognized Jon Conrad and Rebecca Cohen as the best trainers in the state, the County of Maui for the use of their facilities, and to the local community for their undying support of the team.

Justus, a former collegiate player and a referee for over a decade on Maui, stated, “I’ve been around the sport for a long time, and I’ve not seen the kind of support that the team is given anywhere else. I feel blessed to be around it.”