By BILL O’REAR
Tribune-Herald sports editor
As a three-year starter, Kamehameha’s Casey Poe has improved each season and her competitive spirit and all-around skills have made her one of the top basketball players in the state.
And the slender junior showed she’s a difficult assignment for any opponent — especially for Big Island Interscholastic Federation foe Honokaa.
During the regular season, Poe terrorized East Division teams with her versatile performances and then hit a last-second putback to give the young Warriors a heart-pounding 49-48 win over the Dragons in the BIIF Division II championship game at the Kealakehe High gym. Poe had 16 points in the title-clinching victory.
Then both BIIF powerhouses advanced to the state D-II tournament on Oahu and reached the final. The teams fought a close battle until the second half when the 5-foot-11 Poe took over and finished with a game-high 28 points as Kamehameha defeated Honokaa 55-46 for the state crown. She scored 20 of those points in the second half, including 12 of 14 free throws, as the Warriors rallied from a 24-16 deficit at the intermission.
For the soft-spoken Poe, it was her second state title in three years to go along with three straight BIIF titles.
During the BIIF season, Poe averaged 19.1 points, 8.7 rebounds, 4 steals and 1.6 blocked shots per game. Impressive stats but they were only a part of what the junior provided the Warriors. Her leadership and keen ability to make her teammates better also were vital cogs in what she delivered in each game.
So, when coaches voted for the All-BIIF East Division first team, Poe earned her second straight Player of the Year award to top the mythical all-star squad.
“Casey was so valuable for us, she could play all five positions,” Kamehameha head coach Garrett Arima said. “We’d start her in the post, then put her at the point late in the game. She was a tough matchup for the bigger girls and quick to the basket. If you fouled her, she could make the clutch free throws. Her free-throw shooting at the state tournament was phenomenal.
“But it just wasn’t her all-around ability that made her special. What made Casey special was her presence on offense and defense for us. Her teammates were much more confident with Casey on the floor, and that made us a better team.”
Arima also praised Poe’s basketball intelligence and leadership.
“Casey led by example and she had the respect of her teammates and her opponents,” Arima said. “And we always knew if Casey struggled in the first half of a game, she would take over in the second half — like she did in the state championship game against Honokaa.
“Casey can compete with the best players in the state, D-I or D-II, and that’s because of her versatility. She is a nightmare matchup for anyone and she makes her teammates better through her unselfish play.”
Poe is joined on the first team by Kamehameha’s Riana Arima, Hilo’s Aliyah and Alexis Pana, and Waiakea’s Sefulu Faavae.
Arima is a 5-6 sophomore and daughter of the head coach. She teamed with Poe to give the private-school Warriors a high-scoring duo. But Arima also provided steady defense and quick hands that led to steals and easy baskets.
In the BIIF, Arima averaged 14.9 points, 4.7 rebounds, 3.7 steals and 2.2 assists per game. Then in the states, she raised her scoring average to 19 per game, with a career-high 32 in a win over Hanalani.
“Riana had a consistent year scoring and really lifted her game in the BIIF and state tournaments,” Garrett Arima said. “It was a blessing for us this year to have Namele (Naipo-Arsiga) return and play the point. That allowed Riana to be our perimeter scorer and Riana got better and better as the year went along.”
Aliyah Pana, a 5-8 junior, provided the young Vikings with strong leadership and all-around skills that contributed to Hilo’s fine season. She could score inside or out, rebound and defend bigger or quicker opponents, and had the ability to make clutch free throws. She averaged 13 points during the BIIF season and 20 at the state D-I tournament.
Garrett Arima called Aliyah Pana one of the most versatile players in the league.
“Aliyah had a great year,” Arima said. “I thought Casey and Aliyah would be the two players battling for player of the year honors. Hilo played tough and they’re going to be really good again next year.”
Aliyah Pana, the daughter of Viking head coach Ben Pana, was instrumental in Hilo’s outstanding season.
“Aliyah was a big part of everything we did,” the Hilo coach said. “But the most important thing she gave us was leadership on and off the court. She just went out and played the game like it was meant to be played and never gave up. At the state tournament, she was more confident and aggressive offensively. She had a lot of mismatches and took advantage of them.”
Alexis Pana, a 5-9 freshman point guard, was a productive scorer (10), a clever ballhandler and passer, and used her lanky athletic frame to shadow and harass opponents into turnovers. She also had a dangerous 3-point shot, but it was her ability do dribble penetrate and score or find open Viking shooters that enhanced Hilo’s high-scoring attack.
“Lexi took a lot of the ballhandling and rebounding pressure off Aliyah and the other girls,” Ben Pana said. “She didn’t really look to score. She tried to do all of the little things to help her teammates, like always guarding the other team’s highest scorer or finding her teammates open for shots.”
Faavae, a 5-8 senior guard/forward, was one of the most versatile players in the BIIF and often carried the young Warriors on offense. She scored 10 points per game, but it was her tough defense, rebounding and leadership that just added to her value for Waiakea.
“Sefulu is the best defensive player I’ve had in the 10 years I’ve coached Waiakea,” Warrior coach Grant Kauhi said. “She averaged four steals a game this year and led us in steals all four years. She meant a lot to our team this year. She is very unselfish and provided us with a lot of leadership. She set the tone for our team.”
Waiakea’s Shaila Apele led the All-East second team and was joined by Kamehameha’s Namele Naipo-Arsiga, Waiakea’s Kaydee Rapozo, Pahoa’s Randi Berinobis and Keaau’s Maedina Ongais-Kilaulani.
Apele, a 5-9 junior forward, provided the public-school Warriors steady rebounding, defense and in-the-paint scoring; Naipo-Arsiga, a 5-1 senior guard, gave the private-school Warriors solid ballhandling, defense and scoring; Rapozo, a 5-3 guard, provided Waiakea with consistent ballhandling, defense and a deadly 3-point shot; Berinobis, a 5-9 junior, gave the Daggers a potent scorer and rebounder and steady defender; and Ongais-Kilaulani, a 5-3 senior, provided the Cougars with strong backcourt play, scoring and hustling defense.
Hilo’s Ben Pana was selected the East Division’s Coach of the Year. He led the young Vikings to an unbeaten record in the division and a runner-up finish to BIIF D-I champion Konawaena. He started a junior, a sophomore and three freshmen on a talented squad.
“For me, I want to share the Coach of the Year award with my staff,” Pana said. “This is not a one-person award, it’s a staff award. All my assistants worked hard to get the team to where it is — to have the year we had.”
Hilo went onto to place third in the state D-I tournament on Oahu. State powerhouse Konawaena fell to Kamehameha-Kapalama in the state title game.
Pana was assisted by Gavien DeMello, Aaron Kaleo, Lindsey Iyo, Emma Pedro and Dave Baldwin, the Vikings’ conditioning guru.
All-BIIF basketball: East Division
Casey Poe 5-11 Jr. Kamehameha
Riana Arima 5-6 So. Kamehameha
Aliyah Pana 5-8 Jr. Hilo
Alexis Pana 5-9 Fr. Hilo
Sefulu Faavae 5-9 Sr. Waiakea
Shaila Apele 5-9 So. Waiakea
Namele Naipo-Arsiga 5-2 Sr. Kamehameha
Kaydee Rapozo 5-3 So. Waiakea
Randi Berinobis 5-9 Jr. Pahoa
Maedina Ongais-Kilaulani 5-3 Sr. Keaau
Hilo: Sharlei Graham-Bernisto; Amber Vaughn
Keaau: Taylor Pocock
Ka’u: Shaylin Navarro
Pahoa: Ranchell Berinobis
Waiakea: Nicole Antonio, Daven Namohala-Roloos
East Player of the Year
Casey Poe, Kamehameha
East Coach of the Year
Ben Pana, Hilo
Editor’s note: The All-BIIF teams were selected through balloting of the league coaches, under league coordinator Kalei Namohala.