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‘A new year’ for Lunas

Three-time defending D-II state champs focused on present, not past

Lahainaluna High School’s Joshua Tihada runs for a second-quarter touchdown against Damien on Aug. 3 at Sue Cooley Stadium. The three-time defending Division II state champion Lunas open Maui Interscholastic League play on Saturday at King Kekaulike. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photos

LAHAINA — Joshua Tihada has grown up with Lahainaluna High School football. Now, the all-time leader in state tournament touchdowns is a senior.

“No, I actually can’t believe I’m a senior,” Tihada said. “You know, we grew from where we started and we’ll see where this year takes us.”

The three-time defending Division II state champions have once again started their progression to the Maui Interscholastic League season that begins for them at King Kekaulike Stadium on Saturday night.

“It’s a new year,” Tihada said. “Things that have happened in the past, we just learn from it, try to get better from it, not get satisfied with what we already have and just be hungry for more.”

The 5-foot-9, 175-pound scoring machine — his 15 state tournament touchdowns is three more than any other player — is set to lead an offense that has just five returning starters.

Lahainaluna co-head coach Dean Rickard (center) watches a second-quarter goal-line stand against Damien with members of his staff on Aug. 3.

Wide receiver Kai Bookland is one of the other offensive starters back, along with linemen Hookipa Sakalia and T.J. Galoia, and quarterback Nainoa Irish, who has played more linebacker than quarterback in the Lunas’ preseason games against Damien and Kapaa.

“We’re a new team, this team hasn’t won anything yet,” Bookland said. “Our senior class, we have got to learn how to lead better, and perform better, work harder because we haven’t won anything yet. We have got to keep pushing.”

Junior quarterback Esekielu Storer was 9-for-12 passing for 145 yards in a 21-18 win over Kapaa last week. Bookland caught four of those passes for 65 yards — six other receivers also caught passes that night.

Tihada ran 11 times for 49 yards and caught a pass for eight yards –10 Lunas recorded rushes and five took snaps at quarterback against Kapaa.

“The sky’s the limit,” Bookland said when asked how good this offense can be. “We have great running backs, great receivers and two great quarterbacks. I mean, we can run the ball, we can throw the ball anywhere.”

The Lunas are lining up this season without Garret Tihada — a cousin to Joshua — on the coaching staff for the first time in 32 years.

“We do, we do, of course, always,” Joshua Tihada said when asked if the team misses Garret Tihada. “Coach G, he’s been a very good leader for our team, a role model for us, but just having the other coaches, too, it’s pretty much the same thing. There’s not really much of a change.”

Dean Rickard has stepped into Garret Tihada’s shoes as offensive coordinator and co-head coach.

The Lunas’ 21-game overall winning streak ended with a 38-31 overtime loss to Damien on Aug. 3 before bouncing back against Kapaa, the team the Lunas beat 34-32 last season to win the D-II state crown.

“Conditioning-wise was the main concern and we definitely improved from overall team conditioning for sure, so we’re happy with that,” Rickard said of the work between nonleague games. “As far as the Xs and Os of football, we still have a lot of work to do. We’ve got a lot of young players that are coming back, we lost a lot of starters from last year. So, we’re still trying to find the right personnel for the right fit both offensively and defensively — we’re still shuffling players around and trying to find that right mixture.”

The six returning starters on defense include defensive backs Tre Rickard and Brysen Rickard, linebackers Devon Sa-Chisolm and Nainoa Kulukulualani-Sales, safety Kaihulali Casco and defensive lineman Tuipulotu Lai, an NCAA Division I prospect with several scholarship offers already under his belt.

Sakalia, Galoia, Sa-Chisolm, Josh Tihada and Irish are all candidates to see significant time on both sides of the ball. Sa-Chisolm had a 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against Kapaa and will also see time at wide receiver.

“We lost quite a few and the majority of our losses came in the trenches,” Dean Rickard said.

The Lunas have won 17 MIL games in a row, two short of the record done twice by Baldwin — their last league loss was 19-13 to Baldwin on Oct. 15, 2016. Last season, the Lunas became the first MIL team ever to finish 11-0.

All that matters little to Dean Rickard.

“I know it matters to our community and it matters to other people, but for us we try to have the kids focus solely on what the following week has to offer,” the coach said. “We don’t want them to live in the past or on other teams’ successes. It’s important for this team to establish their identity.”

* Robert Collias is at rcollias@mauinews.com.

Lunas at a glance

2018 record–11-0 overall, 8-0 MIL, won Division II state title

Offense–single wing, wildcat, multi-scheme

Defense–3-5

Returning starters–5 offense, 6 defense

*****

MIL Football

2019 SEASON PREVIEWS

Monday–King Kekaulike

Tuesday–Kamehameha Maui

Wednesday–Maui High

Today–Lahainaluna

Friday–Baldwin

UPCOMING SCHEDULE

Friday’s Game

Baldwin at Kamehameha Maui, 7 p.m.

Saturday’s Games

Lahainaluna at King Kekaulike, 7 p.m.

Maui High at Kauai, 7 p.m.