By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
If Randi Berinobis wants any inside scoops on making history she can consult with Maxine Block or better yet talk to her teammate Erleen Oguma on the Pahoa girls basketball team.
Block and Oguma were key starters on the Daggers volleyball squad, which qualified for the Hawaii High School Athletic Association Division II state tournament, the school’s first trip since 1997.
Even better, Block became the first volleyball player out of the Puna district to land a full-ride scholarship to a four-year college. The 5-foot, 8-inch senior middle blocker was also voted to the Big Island Interscholastic Federation Division II first team for the first time.
Berinobis, a 5-9 senior forward, and Block are alike in so many ways. Both are the best players on their team, putting their focus on their main sport; Block is now playing club ball for HI Intensity. Both were named to the All-BIIF second team in their junior seasons, improving each year.
New Pahoa coach Shawn Fuiava believes Berinobis can be a trailblazer, too, leading her ballclub to a historic state berth and becoming the first Dagger to get a hoops scholarship. (Nick Fisher, a 2013 graduate and the BIIF East player of the year, was an invited Chaminade walk-on.)
“Our slogan every time we break the huddle is ‘Make history.’ Pahoa has never been to states. But they’re really determined this year,” Fuiava said. “Randi is our only senior on the team and more than anything she wants to go out with a bang. She pulled me on the side and said, ‘I put my trust in you to help us get there.’ For a new guy coming in, to hear her say that it’s a big step for me.
“One of the first things I told the team, during the parents meeting, was that high school is the best years of our life. I don’t want them to say I wish I tried harder. I want them to enjoy it and make the best of it. Their grades have gone up. Their attitude has changed. They all passed grade check. The mindset is a lot different, and the work ethic that comes along is even better.”
Fuiava lived in San Diego and coached youth basketball. He also played pick-up ball and didn’t just foul people or hoist 3-pointers, but made important friendships.
“Randi could get a scholarship,” he said. “I have connections in San Diego and got to know a lot of basketball guys.”
Last season, the Daggers finished with a 2-9 record, losing to Kohala 49-44 in the first round of the BIIF Division II playoffs, despite Berinobis’ game-high 17 points. Pahoa hasn’t advanced to the league semifinals since statewide classification started in 2004.
Securing that historic first state berth won’t be easy for the Daggers, who at least get to measure themselves against all the Division II teams with the return to the round-robin format.
Kamehameha is the two-time defending Division II state champion, and has pocketed the last six BIIF titles. Former Honokaa coach James Lukzen piloted the Dragons to states the last three years, including a runner-up finish last season. (His old team is stacked and pummeled the Warriors 59-31 in a preseason game.)
Kohala beat Hawaii Prep 44-23 in the league’s third-place game last year, claiming the Cowgirls first state berth since 1991. Both westside schools figure to be strong contenders in the BIIF’s musical-chairs battle for three state spots.
HPA returns its two best players in seniors Tiana Reynolds and Tiana Bertelmann-Tabac, the point guard who missed the playoffs because of a knee injury. Kohala loses its best player, but returns athleticism and experience; a Tribune-Herald team preview on the Cowgirls will run on Friday.
Berinobis’ brother is Randan Berinobis, a 2011 Hilo graduate and the BIIF player of the year that season. Randan, a freshman guard at UH-Hilo, went to the Division I state tournament twice, including 2010 when the Vikings won the BIIF crown.
Randi’s sister Ranchell is a 5-5 junior point guard. She received All-BIIF honorable mention last season. Their dad Randy Berinobis was the Daggers coach last season.
The team’s other starters are Vanessa Castro, a 5-3 junior guard; Erleen Oguma, a 5-6 junior guard; and Lohe Kaawaloa, a 5-9 junior center.
“We’ve got talent with the two Berinobis girls and our supporting cast,” Fuiava said. “Randi is vocal on the court and good with her directions. I’ve read all the articles about the team. She’s really underrated and one of the best post players on the island. Her moves are really smooth. She’s got an old-school basketball style — post-up, take it down and spin toward the basket. Her mid-range shot is deadly.
“The girls’ confidence is through the roof. They all can shoot and my philosophy is to give them the green light. The worst thing is to have an empty possession. We’re aiming pretty high for states this year, not the third-place game but one of the top two spots. All the girls have played together since the eighth grade.”
Fuiava wants his Daggers to play an uptempo game, create their offense from defense and throw multiple looks like a 1-3-1 zone, half-court press and traps off man-to-man pressure to dictate tempo.
That’s not the only change the first-year coach is seeking.
“My coaches and I don’t want to change the team, but the culture,” he said. “Everybody looks down on that area. Our main focus is to change the culture. It’s a lot different this year.”
Fuiava is a 1998 Hilo graduate and played football for the Vikings. But when his dad was in the military, he played basketball at an Alabama high school as a sophomore, experiencing the big-time college football atmosphere when Auburn came to town.
“Football is above everything, politics and everything,” he said. “They cancel everything for the Auburn-Alabama game. They close all the stores. It’s crazy and insane. It’s unreal with people coming in their mobile homes.”
Before he graduated from Hilo, he spent a year in Pahoa, where old classmates are now fathers to his young Daggers. He later spent seven years in San Diego and coached three youth teams at one time.
“My 9-year-old’s team went to the district finals. I always use that team as a good example,” Fuiava said. “They didn’t win one game the whole year, but they kept showing progress. Then they took out the No. 4 seed, No. 3 and No. 2 seed to get to the finals.
“They put it in their heads that they would grow and learn. Whether they won or lost, they were always positive, smiling on the court and having fun. When it comes down to it, they knew they had talent. Confidence is the biggest thing with my kids.”
Editor’s note: This is another installment in a continuing series of BIIF girls basketball previews.
Next up: Hilo, Thursday