LAHAINA - The high-quality, high-octane Lahainaluna High School girls basketball program becomes more refined year after year here on the West Side. The ten-time defending Maui Interscholastic League champions -currently riding an unapproachable, 92-game, all-sport regular season consecutive winning streak, and appearing in five of the last six state final fours - are once again putting in the countless hours of work that equates out to one of the elite interscholastic teams in the State of Hawaii.
The architect of the "Big Red Machine" over the current run, and for 22 years total, is Todd Rickard, who has dedicated his life to the program throughout that run and created an unparalleled tradition of excellence here on the Valley Isle. Coach Todd is assisted once again by his trusty sidekick, Ian Aotaki, and Derek Akamine recently joined the staff.
Lady Luna basketball has become a fixture at the sparkling confines of the Lahaina Civic Center, home of the EA Sports Maui Invitational Basketball Tournament. The Lahainaluna team, as well as the Menehune League (the middle school feeder program) athletes, work throughout the year at the LCC in preparation for the summer showcase tournaments, the MIL season and the focused goal of the Hawaii High School Athletic Association state tournament.
Coaches Todd Rickard (right) and Ian Aotaki address the Lahaina Girls team at practice last week at Lahaina Civic Center.
"The state playoffs is always our ultimate goal," said Coach Todd. "Our work throughout the year, and especially in the summer months, is to win the MIL and then be a force at the state tournament."
Lahainaluna won the HHSAA championship, the first ever for a MIL school, in 2010.
According to Rickard, the program is refining its approach to cope with unexpected injuries and increased competition both here on Maui and throughout the state - especially on the Big Island and in the Interscholastic League of Honolulu, which includes elite private schools such as Punahou and Iolani.
"We don't have numbers this year, so we're expanding our philosophy so that all comers from outside the district can join our emphasis on the club team," he said during a practice break at the LCC two weeks ago. "We're a small community, times are different, but we are still at our strongest right now."
"It all starts with the youth program (the West Maui Youth Basketball League initially led by Don Rosenthal until his recent retirement, and currently guided by Sean Gordon) here in Lahaina," Coach Todd continued. "That program is the key to our success, as it introduces the kids to the game and funnels them into the Menehune program to get them ready for the high school team. Almost all of our players have come up through that program. It's made it all possible for Lahainaluna to have the success that we're having."
The Lahaina Girls - made up of a high school age roster, a 14 and under team, and a 12 and under lineup - competes in several summer tournaments to prepare for the upcoming season. Over the June 13-15 weekend, they competed in the Kona Invitational, with the high school team finishing in second place, the 14U also winning a silver, and the 12U team coming in fourth place.
The high school roster included Folau Hafoka, Lisa Hafoka, Cameron Fernandez, Fieme'a Hafoka, Keleah-Aiko Koloi, Kalena Balingit and Liana Tanaka; the 14 team was made up of Keiko Aotaki, Braeanne Estabillo, Rachel Balagso, Aleiya Wolf, Sheilaika Agbayani and Tori Tihada; and the "12s" consisted of Teani Rickard, Abby Akamine, Ashley Akamine, Teani Buenconsejo, Amelia Uhlia and Taioala Wolf.
Next up for the Lahaina Girls will be the Diana Taurasi Storm Elite Showcase on July 6-8, at the Anaheim Sports Complex in Southern California. The girls will return for the Maui Summer Classic at the end of the month and then begin preparations for the high school preseason holiday tournaments and the 2014-15 MIL season.
"Our main focus is to keep this program going," concluded Coach Todd.