Lunas ready for tough test

LAHAINA – The Lahainaluna High School girls basketball team has weathered a tough road before.

When the Lunas won the Maui Interscholastic League’s only Division I state basketball crown, in 2010, it was as a No. 3 seed – they beat the top two seeds, Punahou and Konawaena, in the semifinals and final.

This time, coach Todd Rickard says it will be a test for the top-seeded Lunas just to reach the semifinals of the Hawaiian Airlines Championships. In Saturday’s quarterfinal at the Lahaina Civic Center, Lahainaluna will meet the winner of Friday’s game between Kailua and Maryknoll.

Rickard made no secret at Tuesday’s practice that he expects to see Maryknoll, which is ranked fifth in the state by the Honolulu Star-Advertiser and on Saturday lost in overtime, by one point, to Punahou in the Interscholastic League of Honolulu title game.

“The one seed, the two seed, the three seed, the fourth seed, it doesn’t really matter because we were going to play the same team anyway, really,” said Rickard, whose team won a 10th straight Maui Interscholastic League title this season. “I don’t see no difference in last year when we were seeded four and this year when we were seeded one. It seems like they had this thing already predetermined.”

Last season, fourth-seeded Lahainaluna lost to ILH runner-up Iolani in the quarterfinals. ILH teams have won 27 of the 37 D-I state titles – the league has had both teams in the final 17 times.

“We cannot do nothing about it,” Rickard said. “We cannot change things. The HHSAA does what they do, we just have to go along with it and play – that’s all we can do.

“There’s a lot of teams who can win the state title and Maryknoll is definitely one of them.”

So, too, could the Lunas, who are 27-1 overall, and have won their last 22 games. Seven players averaged at least eight points per game for Lahainaluna during the MIL season, and the team won its league games by an average score of 75-22.

Sophomore center Keleah-Aiko Koloi was Lahainaluna’s leading scorer in MIL play (11.3 points per game), followed by Aloha Salem (9.6), Fiemea Hafoka (9.5), Loke Basques (9.4), Folau Hafoka (8.6), Taylor Bates (8.5) and Lindsay Bates (8.2).

A big crowd is expected to pack the Lahaina Civic Center, which seats 2,400 when auxiliary stands are added for the Maui Invitational.

“They are definitely going to help us out, just being there, supporting the girls, supporting the team, it is always a welcome sight,” Rickard said. “They will give us energy when the girls are getting tired and stuff like that, but it is not going to be who is at the game, it is going to be how our girls play that night.”

Basques said: “We just have to play our game and not pay attention to the crowd, do what we’re best at doing, playing defense and playing as a team.”

Rickard said the No. 1 seed is not a burden for a program that had a string of four straight final fours snapped last season, when the Lunas finished sixth. Lahainaluna owns victories over this year’s second and third seeds, Konawaena and Punahou, and four other teams in the field – Leilehua, Hilo, Mililani and King Kekaulike. The Lunas’ only loss was to Kamehameha Kapalama, which is not in the tournament.

“Our girls are going to play the way they have been playing for this past year,” Rickard said. “We are going to go out there, play with a lot of energy, a lot of heart, a lot of passion. If we win the game and we move on, great. If we don’t, then the season comes to an end. It’s as simple as that.”

Last year was an eye-opener for a young team that still has only one senior, Basques, who said there is some pressure being the No. 1 seed.

“Kind of because we have a messed-up bracket, so, yeah, it’s hard on us, but all we have to do is play our game,” she said. “It’s a challenge and we have been looking for a challenge ever since MILs were finished, so, yeah, we will be ready.”

Junior point guard Lindsey Bates teams with her twin sister to start the Lunas’ full-court defense.

“I think we’re prepared,” Bates said.

“I think (the crowd) is going to give us a lot of energy and momentum, the crowd is going to bring a lot. I’m really excited, but we can’t take it for granted.”

The Lunas, who have won 92 MIL games in a row, played two games in a day five times this season.

“I think they have really matured a lot,” Rickard said. “I think they understand the game a little bit more and what they need to do to advance. Basically, I think they are ready for this. I think they welcome the challenge. We are just going to play a 110 miles an hour and see what happens.”

* Robert Collias is at