By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
Sefulu Faavae worked herself into better shape pulling a parachute at Waiakea’s track, building the type of endurance she’ll need as the go-to player on the girls basketball team.
The 5-foot-8 senior forward will be counted on to lead by example, score, defend and do everything in between for the Warriors, the Big Island Interscholastic Federation runner-up the last four seasons.
“She’s taken more of a leadership role,” Waiakea coach Grant Kauhi said. “She looks the same, but she’s more dominant in the post. Of course, defense is her best attribute. She’s led the team in steals the last three seasons.”
The Warriors don’t have a lot of depth, with just nine on the roster, including two returning starters in Faavae and senior Daven Namohala-Roloos, who’s good at parking herself in the paint and scoring with low-post fundamentals. She rebounds, too, but is on the mend with a knee injury.
Keani Shirai will step into the point guard spot, after seeing valuable time as a junior last season. Likewise, sophomores Nicole Antonio and Kaydee Rapozo made the varsity as freshmen and have been handed expanded roles at shooting guard.
Shaila Apele transferred from Kamehameha, the defending Division II state champion, and found a spot in the lineup because of her board work.
“She definitely helps us with rebounds,” Kauhi said. “Her, Fulu, and Daven controlled the boards a lot and that’s a big plus. One thing is we’re short. We depend on the guards to help us with rebounds.”
The Warriors will also depend on Faavae to play tough defense — reading passing lanes for steals and sticking to ball-handlers to disrupt the other team’s tempo while crossing their fingers that she doesn’t get into foul trouble.
She’s always been a consistent scoring threat in the open court on fastbreaks. But when defenders race back and force Waiakea into half-court sets, that’s when Faavae’s offseason work will make an appearance.
“I was working on my speed and shooting,” she said. “The expectation is for me to attack the basket and score a lot more than usual. They expect me to lead the team on and off the court and make some plays for myself and the shooters.
“Our goal is to win the BIIF title. It’ll take a lot of hard work. Nothing is going to be easy.”
If Faavae dribble-penetrates and the defense collapses, someone on the perimeter should be open for her kickouts. It’s a quick, easy offense to score points, with the side benefit of getting the other team in foul trouble.
“The whole thing we stress is communication. As long as her teammates call out the double team, that makes it easy to find the open person,” Kauhi said. “Fulu can post up, too. She can post up a smaller player or take a big man outside. She’s added more post moves to her arsenal. With her size, she’ll cause a lot of problems with defenders one-on-one.
“Kaydee and Nicole are two of our outside shooters we’ll rely on heavily, especially Nicole. She’ll get a lot of looks. Right now, she’s up there with Fulu in scoring. Nicole worked hard to improve her defense over last season. That’s why she’s starting now. She gained confidence as a two-guard and we can use her at the point.”
During the offseason, Shirai sharpened her game with the Hoop Dreams club team, coached by Kalani Silva and Randy Apele, Shaila’s dad.
“I’ve had a lot of repetitions,” Shirai said. “I’ve gotten better from last year. My shot is a little more consistent. The team is pretty young. We have to rely on the young players to step up, work hard and play together.”
One interesting game to watch is Friday night’s showdown between Hilo and Waiakea. The Vikings toppled the Warriors 48-36 at their tourney last week, setting an early pecking order.
Konawaena, the two-time defending Division I state champion, graduated Dawnyelle Awa and Lia Galdeira. Both are at Washington State, no longer tormenting BIIF opposition.
It’s hard to believe but Hilo hasn’t been to the Hawaii High School Athletic Association state tournament since 1996.
However, the Vikings didn’t lose anyone from last season and added promising freshman Alexis Pana to a squad led by her sister, junior Aliyah Pana, who was named the Most Outstanding Player for the tourney.
“Everybody dropped in size, but Hilo improved. They didn’t lose anybody to graduation,” Kauhi said. “Every school took a hit, but Hilo is young and is getting older and wiser. The Division I race should be interesting. Hilo and Kona look like the early favorites.”
In the tourney, Waiakea will face Maui, Hilo, Honokaa and Mililani.
Shirai looks at the games as an opportunity to grow as a team, and when something needs to happen she knows where to pass the ball.
“This tourney we get to see what we have to work on,” she said. “The playing field in the league is a little more level. Kona doesn’t have their two big guns. Everyone is a work-in-progress.
“Sefulu is an amazing all-around player. She shoots, she drives, she can play in the post and take it in. Every single play, she’s aggressive and she can finish her shot.”
Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of BIIF basketball previews.
At a glance
Waiakea girls basketball tournament
Kealakehe vs. Keaau, 3 p.m.
Hilo vs. Mililani, 4:30 p.m.
Maui vs. Waiakea, 6 p.m.
Honokaa vs. Ka‘u, 7:30 p.m.
Mililani vs. Honokaa, 3 p.m.
Ka‘u vs. Kealakehe, 4:30 p.m.
Keaau vs. Maui, 6 p.m.
Waiakea vs. Hilo, 7:30 p.m.
Honokaa vs. Waiakea JV, 10 a.m.
Honokaa vs. Waiakea, 11:30 a.m.
Keaau vs. Mililani, 1 p.m.
Hilo vs. Kealakehe, 2:30 p.m.
Maui vs. Ka‘u, 4 p.m.
Mililani vs. Waiakea, 5:30 p.m.