A tossup at tip-off as girls take court
By Wes Nakama
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Wes Nakama
New faces, surprise guests and familiar teams in unfamiliar spots highlight the 30th Annual Hawaiian Airlines/HHSAA Girls Basketball Division I Championships starting today at Stan Sheriff Center.
Defending champion Punahou is seeded No. 1, a position few had predicted the Buffanblu would be in after losing several key seniors from last year's team.
Roosevelt is No. 2 after winning its first O'ahu Interscholastic Association title since 1982.
Honoka'a is No. 3, breaking Konawaena's four-year run as Big Island Interscholastic Federation champion.
Kamehameha, which went 6-4 in the Interscholastic League of Honolulu regular season, is a dark horse entry after a shocking comeback victory over Iolani in the ILH postseason tournament final to earn the league's second state berth.
And after being shut out of the past three state tournaments, the OIA West has two representatives in Radford and Mililani.
"I look at the field, and there's quality teams everywhere," Roosevelt coach Bobby Keanini said. "It's wide open. It's going to be a fun tournament."
Punahou struggled early in the season trying to fill the void of several graduated seniors, including 2005 Advertiser State Player of the Year Shanna-Lei Dacanay. The Buffanblu lost to Iolani and Kamehameha, and in one of their games twins Shawna and Shaena Kuehu accounted for all of the team's 31 points.
"The loss of last year's seniors was huge," Punahou coach Mike Taylor said. "Not just Shanna and (four-year letterman) Christine (Takara), but we had other seniors that maybe didn't get a lot of notoriety or score a lot of points, but did all the intangibles on and off the court. Without them, we knew it would take time this year and we had to be patient.
"But it's a tribute to this year's girls that they practiced at a high level and had the work ethic to improve and sustain our success. They stepped it up."
Shawna Kuehu, an Advertiser All-State first-team selection as a freshman last year, is a rare post player who can also lead a fast break. She notched 28 points in a comeback win over Iolani for the ILH championship.
Besides her sister, guards Ciana Aiwohi and Elizabeth Abe and forward Sophie Merrifield have helped take some of the scoring burden off Shawna.
"You could see them jelling as the season went on," Keanini said.
Keanini could have said the same about his team, which has won 10 straight after a 45-40 loss to Kalaheo on March 29.
Guards Dianna Zane and Tiana Sugui, forwards Tati Beasley and Iwa Rodrigues and center Shannon Miyashiro appear to be perfect complements to each other.
"With Roosevelt, it's 'pick your poison,' " Taylor said. "They're strong at all five positions, and they can hurt you in different ways with different people."
Honoka'a surprised some by advancing to last year's state semifinals, but with All-State guard Keisha Kanekoa back, the Dragons will not sneak up on anybody this time.
"Watching them in the preseason, you could see the possibilities," Keanini said. "Keisha is always gonna be their main threat, but she also has quality players to support her. And Daphne (Honma) is a great coach, so it's no surprise that they won (the BIIF)."
Honma said her team's strong showing in last year's tournament has carried over.
"I think last year, it finally sunk in that we could do this," Honma said. "This year, the girls had confidence from the beginning and they're more focused on the goal."
Reach Wes Nakama at email@example.com.