By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
Maedina Ongais-Kilaulani is glad to have new transfer Taylor Pocock as a teammate on the Keaau girls basketball team because the two captains push each other and everyone else.
They each push the others with much-needed encouragement because the rest of the Cougars are young and inexperienced, with five players being newcomers to the sport.
Only senior guard Ongais-Kilaulani, a returning starter, and junior guard Pocock, who transferred from Ka‘u, have Big Island Interscholastic Federation game experience.
Moving up from the junior varsity are sophomores Jasmine Segovia, who will start, and Sililia Masima, who comes off the bench. Junior center Cynthia Nakaima and sophomore guard Kilohi Kamakea-Wong will also start.
Pocock’s family moved from Pahala to Keaau, and her dad Mark Pocock, who spent five years as the Ka‘u coach, is the new Cougars coach. Mark Kawaha, the Keaau boys coach, is an assistant, after being the girls coach last season.
For years, the Cougars remained competitive in the BIIF behind a nucleus of Jacy Pagala, Randi Estrada and Anamalia Suesue, all lost to graduation. Pagala is playing basketball at Arizona Western, and Estrada completed her first season in volleyball at Eastern Arizona.
“It’s very different,” Ongais-Kilaulani said. “Our practices started with the new players not knowing how to dribble. At least, they can dribble a little down the court.
“We practice all the time and when we make mistakes we have to get back up again. Coach wants us to be a family and work together. If one man falls down, we all fall apart.”
That institution of teamwork is something coach Pocock is hammering hard on his young Cougars.
“What’s really important is trying to build character,” he said. “That’s what I stress. That you need to be an all-star in the classroom. The team realizes they need to enjoy being teammates, wanting to take care of one another.
“They work hard and are very coachable. When I talk to them all eyes are on me. They’re attentive and eager to learn. They’re all sponges. One thing is they’re all good kids.”
Ongais-Kilaulani is an all-star in the classroom. She not only pushes herself on the court, but in class as well. Her grade-point average spans the 3.7 to 4.0 range.
She wants to major in radiology in college. She has a strong interest in math and science. And she can be her own test subject when she thinks about her future occupation.
“When I sprain an ankle, I understand where it is and where it hurts,” she said. “I talk to the trainers about it. I like being hands on with things and body parts in general. I study day and night to consistently do well in school. I push myself in practice when I feel my body wants to give up.
“Teamwork is important because you need help to get through life. You can’t always do it on your own. I like being able to push my teammates when they hang their heads. I try to be a role model for them.”
Ongais-Kilaulani and Taylor Pocock played on Kawaha’s club team during the summer, forming a friendship. So when Pocock transferred from Ka‘u, a school with an enrollment of about 250 students, to Keaau with over 900 students, she didn’t suffer any new-student blues.
During her time with the Trojans, Pocock played in big games. They were always in the ballpark. Last season, Ka‘u fell to Hawaii Prep 56-32 for the league’s third spot to the Division II state tournament.
“It was different and hard coming from a small school, but at least I knew some girls on the basketball team,” Pocock said. “That made it easier. It’s kind of hard going back to the basics for basketball. But basketball is a team sport. We’re there to help them understand that we win as a team and lose as a team.
“To be a leader is knowing you can help someone. You don’t have to ask if they need help. You should go there and that’s something you should be doing. When someone makes a mistake, we have to pull them aside, encourage them and brighten them up.”
Ongais-Kilaulani pointed out that pushing her new partner, Pocock, is just as enjoyable as pushing herself.
“We push each other,” she said. “We butt heads but that makes us better. We try to beat each other. Plus if I didn’t have her I don’t think I would get any better.”