By MATT GERHART
Tribune-Herald sports writer
Hit hard by graduation and transfers, the Hawaii Preparatory Academy girls basketball team returns just one starter.
Because of their youth, coach Craig Kimura already has told the Ka Makani they’ll have to work harder than ever to make what has become an annual trip to the Hawaii High School Athletic Association tournament.
That’s the bad news.
The good news: Tiana Bertelmann-Tabac is the one type of player that Kimura would choose to help HPA ease the transition.
“Our teams have been very successful, and that’s all because we had really outstanding point guards,” Kimura said.
Consider Bertelmann-Tabac the next in line.
Better yet, the coach calls her a true point guard, and that’s been a precious commodity for Kimura. He estimates that the 5-foot-6 junior is only the fourth such floor general he’s had in his 14 seasons with the Ka Makani.
Kimura doesn’t consider his motion offense complex, but it does take discipline and patience. That puts the onus on Bertelmann-Tabac to lead the way as the new starters, three of whom are coming up from the junior varsity, continue to learn how HPA’s operates.
“She’s improved her ball-handling, everything, just being more assertive on offense,” Kimura said. “Her biggest improvement is mental. She’s matured and doesn’t get flustered.
“We put so much pressure on the point guard. When things go wrong, they tend to hang their head. But this year is different. She’s very positive, a leader, looking at the younger kids and taking them under her wing.”
By Big Island Interscholastic Federation standards, HPA has good height down low in forwards Anna Juan (5-10), Ula Brostek (5-7) and Tiana Reynolds (5-9). Juan, a sophomore, got playing time last season, while Brostek and Reynolds have flashed potential after playing JV last year.
The Ka Makani want to develop all three in the low post to provide multiple scoring threats and force opponents to guard all five players. As one of her many duties, Bertelmann-Tabac will be the facilitator.
“They’ll get us points down there,” she said. “We’ll work hard in practice and see the progress that we’ll get.”
The key is for the interior players to get the system down.
“There is a lot of cutting, but sometimes they just cut. You got to cut with a purpose,” Kimura said.
“(Tiana) is very good at passing, but we have to be ready to receive the pass.”
Reynolds, a junior who also plays volleyball, is long and athletic, while Brostek, a sophomore, is HPA’s most physical player and perhaps its fastest as well.
While the offense still needs work, the Ka Makani are solid defensively, especially with Brostek at power forward.
“She is very strong. She’s like a rock,” Kimura said. “Nobody is going to get around her. Once she figures things out, she’s going to be one of the mainstays of the team. We have high expectations for her.”
In her first year on the varsity, junior Veronica LaSuer-Hernandez will start at shooting guard. Hao Wen Chang is HPA’s only senior and also will see time in the backcourt, while sophomore Erin Baudat has displayed promise and should come off the bench.
The Ka Makani can’t match the depth of Honokaa, one of the preseason favorites in Division II, but Bertelmann-Tabac likes how the team has gelled in the preseason.
She also participates in volleyball and softball at HPA. But she’s played basketball since she was 5, and the regular season of her favorite BIIF sport starts Thursday when the Ka Makani visit Kealakehe.
“I think we can handle it,” she said. “We have good chemistry with this bunch, and I’m sure we’ll be fine. This year is more about the chemistry than winning games. We want to win games, but I think the chemistry coming first will get us far.”
The past seven seasons, the Ka Makani haven gotten as far as the state tournament. The last BIIF title came in 2007. Since then, Kamehameha has reeled off five consecutive championships.
“I think it’s (between) Honokaa and Kamehameha,” Kimura said. “On paper it’s Honokaa, they’re so deep from top to bottom. But I’m kind of old-fashioned. Kamehameha is the champion. They stay the champion until someone beats them.
“Our goal is to get to BIIFs and start peaking around there.”