Radford crashes East party in OIA playoffs
By Wes Nakama
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Wes Nakama
The previous three O'ahu Interscholastic Association girls basketball playoff tournaments had largely been a story of "How the West Was Lost."
The OIA's Red Conference Western Division teams had gone a combined 0 for 12 in league quarterfinal games against teams from the East in that span. The last West team to qualify for the state tournament was Pearl City in 2002. And in 2003 and 2004, the West champion entered the OIA quarterfinals undefeated and with a first-round bye, only to be immediately eliminated.
"We always felt like the underdogs," said Radford senior Nicole Grebe, a third-year varsity post player.
But last Friday, Grebe and her fellow Rams finally broke through that barrier by holding off visiting Moanalua, 38-33. The victory clinched a rare state tournament berth for Radford (12-1) and propelled the Rams into tonight's OIA semifinals against perennial power and East runner-up Kalaheo (10-3).
Tipoff is set for 5:30 at Mililani, followed by the other semifinal between East powers Roosevelt (12-1) and Kahuku (9-4) at 7:30. Both games will be televised live statewide on OC-16.
Kalaheo, Kahuku and Roosevelt are spotlight regulars at this time of year, but for Radford — and any recent West team, for that matter — it is unfamiliar territory.
"It feels like it didn't really set in yet that we're going to states," Grebe said. "The other years, we thought we would be going further than we did, so it's good that this time our season is extended."
There are several theories about the East's past dominance in OIA girls basketball. One is access to clinics: two of the most popular Sunday clinics are held at Kalani and Roosevelt, which makes it a tougher commute for kids who attend Western Division schools.
Another theory is the emphasis on youth basketball programs, as some of the more popular ones — Kalaniana'ole Athletic Club, Kailua Basketball Association and Manoa Girls Basketball — are based in Eastern Division communities. Western Division communities like 'Aiea, Pearl City and Mililani are known more as youth soccer hotbeds.
"I think as a whole, the East is stronger than the West because they play all year-round, and their players have been with each other for a long time," Grebe said. "All those East teams are tough, so they play against tough competition all season."
But according to Radford coach David Lane, the West has stepped it up a notch this season, and the result is improvement for every team.
"The West was tougher than it's been in other years," said Lane, in his fifth season at the Rams' helm. "There were a lot of seasoned players this year, and the competition was a lot better for everybody. The West coaches really worked hard to make their teams better."
At the Kalaheo tournament in March, Radford showed promise in non-league games against Moanalua and Kalaheo, losing to each team by eight points.
"I had a feeling (a playoff matchup) would come down to us and Moanalua," Lane said, "so I scouted them and watched them play about five or six times."
Sophomore guard Marlena Malepeai scored a game-high 16 points on Friday and backcourt mate Kamia Smith added nine points as the Rams took a 28-22 lead after three periods and held off a late Na Menehune charge.
Those two players, plus defensive specialist Brittini Fuller and posts Grebe, Chelsea-Ann Villanueva and Chadney Thompson, have helped make up for the loss of three-time OIA West all-star Tereva Moore, who transferred to the Mainland last summer.
"I knew we were going to miss Tereva's leadership, but the fact that we've made it this far without her is a tribute to all of those girls," Lane said. "We've been able to score more than in the past, and we've played pretty good defense."
Said Grebe: "As a whole, this team has a lot of talent, and it feels like we've jelled."
Smith, who is in her first year at Radford, was not part of the Rams' past playoff frustration but quickly learned about the West stigma upon joining the team.
"They let me know about it," Smith said. "But that just made us more determined, and we're the type of team that never quits. No matter what, we're going to keep playing hard and leave it on the floor. We have no fear."
That is the attitude Lane wants from his team, especially entering tonight's semifinals as the underdogs yet again.
"I told them, 'Don't be satisfied,' " Lane said. "We're not done yet."
Reach Wes Nakama at firstname.lastname@example.org.