LAHAINA - With the deepening roots nurtured by strong community tradition and one of the outstanding youth programs in the state, Lahainaluna High School's girls basketball team is poised to extend its unprecedented run through the Maui Interscholastic League record books.
As the regular season began three weeks ago, the Lady Lunas were riding a 73-game winning streak - an all sport county record - and had rung up eight consecutive MIL championships to go along with four straight final four appearances and a state title in 2010.
That Hawaii High School Athletic Association state title four years ago was the first Division I basketball championship in MIL history for boys or girls and was a crowning glory for Lady Lunas coach Todd Rickard, as he now enters his 20th season at the helm of the elite program.
The Lady Lunas have won an incredible 73 straight MIL games.
And, with a bevy of new, young faces on the roster, including three freshmen and six sophomores, the challenge - and the goal - remains the same.
"We'll work as hard as we can to win the MIL championship and then make our run at states," said Coach Todd, who is assisted by Mike Bates and Ian Aotaki.
"We've put in a lot more tournament games to our schedule this year to try and get more experience for this young but talented team."
Indeed, only two players - senior co-captains Amanda Matsuda and Jade Chihara - return this season with experience from that state title team.
Fellow seniors Petiola Tuakoi and Makana Kaaikala Caban are also back and will lend size and toughness to the Lahainaluna effort.
Sophomores Loke Rosenthal Basques and Misha Whitehead are returning letter-winners with speed and defensive abilities to push the team closer to the top.
Key sophomore returnees are Folau Hafoka, Taylor Bates and Lindsey Bates, with classmates Mina Faaumu, Aloha Salem and Kyla Blando adding depth to the Lady Luna roster.
A sterling freshmen group of Fieme'a Hafoka, Keleah Koloi and Andilyn Alavazo will clearly push Lahainaluna to the top of the MIL and on to a concerted charge toward coveted state championships.
"This team is as athletically talented as any I have ever coached," said Coach Todd. "And we've played more preseason games than ever before, and the girls have worked hard at their off season conditioning. We lack game experience at the state level, but we are very deep and we will play fast at all times, try to score quickly and play full court pressure defense."
The MIL regular season runs through the third week of January with the Lady Lunas, Baldwin, Maui High, King Kekaulike and Kamehameha Schools Maui battling for the league title and the two state tournament bids.
The MIL Tournament will take place Jan. 24-26, with the state championship playoffs set for Feb. 6-9 at the Blaisdell Arena in Honolulu.
Coach Rickard concluded by sending his gratitude out to the West Side community for its relentless support of the Lady Lunas.
"I really want to send my thanks out to the Lahaina community for their support. They are the best fans anywhere, and the girls sense that. This is a great community thing here in that as the team wins, the community wins also. I'd also like to thank the parents and families of the team members for taking so much time out of their daily lives to work at fundraisers so that we could do the extra things we have done this year," he said.