LAHAINA - With a Maui Interscholastic League winning streak dating back to 2007, the Lahainaluna High School girls basketball team is eager to take on anyone at any time.
After a 4-0 start to the MIL season pushed their all-sport league-record winning streak to 77 games, the Lunas (15-5 overall) walked away with a grind-it-out 51-47 victory over Colony (Alaska) in the championship game of the Maui Winter Classic on Saturday night at the Lahainaluna Gym.
"The speed of the game sometimes is a lot different," Lunas coach Todd Rickard said. "For us, it is good for us because we get to see different styles."
KELEAH-AIKO KOLOI – “‘When it comes down to crunch time, coach says, ‘You have got to have ice water in your veins.’ ”
Lahainaluna has taken on the best in the state this season - its losses are to Konawaena, Punahou, Leilehua, Roosevelt and Kamehameha Kapalama - and in its own tournament faced a Colony team that finished third in the Alaska big-school state tournament last season.
The Lunas beat the Knights twice.
Lahainaluna freshman frontline players Keleah-Aiko Koloi and Andilyn Alavazo got some quick experience against height they rarely see in the 50th state. Koloi, a 6-foot forward-center, scored a team-high 11 points and Alavazo, a 5-8 forward, chipped in eight.
Mary Klapperich, a 6-2 senior who has already signed a scholarship at Southern Utah, scored 16 points for the Knights, and 5-11 junior Jen Solano added eight.
"They are big and it is a tournament, so we get to look at different defenses," Rickard said. "The offenses are different size, different speeds, and I think that benefits us. So, you know, we did good - they are a tough team. We were fortunate to come out with the victory again."
Koloi said she has learned from 5-11 senior Petiola Tuakoi, who had two points and eight rebounds Saturday while battling Klapperich and foul trouble.
"Petiola, she is my other half, she is, like, my right hand," Koloi said. "Me and her, we know where we are. She gives me advice, she helps me rebound."
Koloi said of the Knights: "They are pretty tough. For me, the MIL, I'm usually taller than everybody else or same size, so they were a good team. They gave me rubs, they are really tough.
"When it comes down to crunch time, coach says, 'You have got to have ice water in your veins, play your heart out, no matter how big they are, no matter how tough they are, you have got to be physical.' "
Koloi smiled when told that Klapperich would be an NCAA Division I player in a year.
"I love playing against girls like her," Koloi said. "She prepares me for what I'm going up against if we ever go to the Mainland. I plan on trying my best to go to college, so I want to challenge girls like her."
The game was tied nine times, the last at 35-35 when Lahainaluna's Folau Hafoka hit a 15-foot jumper with 5 minutes, 59 seconds left. Early in the second half, Colony had taken a 26-21 lead, its biggest of the game.
Hafoka's jumper sparked a 12-3 spurt for the Lunas.
Colony climbed back within 45-42 on a roll to the basket by Klapperich with 1:43 to play, but would get no closer.
"They help us push, try our best and try harder than usual," Alavazo said. "We don't have as much experience as the other girls, so it helps."
The Knights traveled with just eight players, and the tournament games were their first of the season.
"(The Lunas) play hard, they play hard all night," Colony coach Jeff Bowker said. "So, I give them them credit for that, they played real hard. It is good for us to be here, good to travel, and it helps the team stuff. The big-on-big matchups were good for us, it is going to prepare us to play better teams. Those freshmen played well."
* Robert Collias is at firstname.lastname@example.org