There were several questions surrounding the Lahainaluna High School girls basketball team this season as they tipped off the 2016-17 campaign three months ago.
After graduating three of the outstanding student athletes in the recent history of the school to Division I programs, would the young and small returning group be able to extend the 122-game Maui Interscholastic League regular season all-sport winning streak? Would the Lady Lunas win an unprecedented 13th consecutive MIL championship? Could they possibly reach the Hawaii High School Athletic Association Division I state final four with such a small and inexperienced roster?
The answers to those three queries are yes, yes and a resounding YES!
Behind the veteran leadership of head coach Todd Rickard and assistants Ian Aotaki, Derrick Akamine, Michael Hooper, Maiki Viela, Kai Pahukoa and Jason Donez, the Lady Lunas ran roughshod over their MIL opponents, winning every game by an average margin of better than 25 points per contest to extend the all-sport league standard to 136 consecutive victories.
Then it was on to the state tournament, where the Lady Lunas, with perhaps the smallest and least experienced team in the playoffs, defeated Mililani of the Oahu Interscholastic Association to reach the coveted final four, semifinal round of the tournament. Lahainaluna fell to eventual runner-up Maryknoll and then completed their season with a loss to Kamehameha Kapalama in the third place contest.
"We are definitely satisfied with what the team accomplished this season," said Coach Todd last week. "Of course, our goal is always to win the MIL, go to the state tournament and win it all; but we knew it would be tough with the young and small team we have. We go to the state playoffs to compete at that high level, and I think we did that."
Indeed, the Lady Lunas exhibited the true grit competitiveness that defines all Lahainaluna teams - particularly the defensive cohesiveness they displayed that only comes from deep within the heart of the Red Tide. And, as the growing number of youth programs like the West Maui Youth Basketball League continue to flourish, this championship spirit will only grow stronger.
So, we bid a fond aloha to senior Lisa Hafoka as we look forward to the coming seasons for returnees Susi Namoa, Sheilaika Agbayani, Rachael Balagso, Braenna Estabillo, Keiko Aotaki, Erin Hookano, Tori Tihada, Alexa Plaza and Teani Rickard, as well as all of the youngsters looking up the hill at Lahainaluna.
"This is a community effort that reaches down to the youth leagues here," added Coach Rickard. "The Lahainaluna support is the best in the state - everybody over there in Honolulu sees that. These girls are raised with strong family values."