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A dwindling numbers game


Tribune-Herald sports writer

Waiakea coach Grant Kauhi fondly remembers the Big Island Interscholastic Federation girls basketball 2008 season for two main reasons: team success and league-wide remodeling.

That year was the last time his Warriors captured the league’s Division I championship, right before Konawaena took over and started its run of dominance with a long undefeated streak.

The 12th-year coach also knows that’s the year girls basketball moved from the spring to the winter season to be in compliance with the boys basketball season. Since that statewide 2008 season of change, BIIF girls basketball has never been the same.

Team rosters have been depleted. Girls basketball has not had the numbers of past years. The best case example is Kona, which hasn’t fielded a junior varsity team for the last two seasons.

Even Wildcats coach Bobbie Awa’s Stingrays club team has seen numbers drop. She has just two eighth-graders on her Stingrays club. That’s long been a feeder system for her Wildcats, who depend on that built-in team chemistry when players are promoted to the varsity.

The spring season currently has six sports for girls: golf (another that is losing numbers), judo, softball, tennis, track and field, and water polo. The winter season has five choices for girls: basketball, canoe paddling, soccer, swimming and diving, and wrestling.

After Waiakea fell to Hilo 59-42 in the BIIF Division I semifinals on Friday at Keaau High’s gym, Kauhi lamented the lack of upcoming numbers.

“We’ve got zero eighth graders for basketball,” he said. “We’ve got more in sixth and seventh grade. Soccer is killing us. A lot of kids play soccer. They’ve got some 5 feet 9 kids on the Waiakea soccer team.

“Ever since they made the move, we’ve been slowly losing girls. At some point, we may not have a JV team.”

Waiakea entered the playoffs with a roster of 12, with two seniors in Shaila Apele and Vanessa Ignacio. Apele started and scored 10 points against Hilo.

She leaves behind a team with two freshmen starters and a highlight reel of teamwork and hard work.

Her eyes were welled with tears as she walked off the court on Friday. It was her final BIIF game. She plans to attend UH-Hilo and major in nursing, hanging up her basketball shoes.

“I’m going to miss all the good memories, and hard work and pushing every day,” Apele said. “I’m going to miss all that.”

Kyrssie Okinaka led Waiakea with 13 points, and fellow freshman starter Danielle Oda added six points. Junior guard Kaydee Rapozo, the other starter, had seven points.

“Both teams played hard. The better team won,” Apele said. “I couldn’t ask our girls to do any better than what they did. We played our hearts out.”

The Vikings had a roster of 14, including five seniors in Kaily Harris, Shaila Wilbur-Gabriel, Amber Vaughn, Alyssa Perreira and Aliyah Pana, who’s the only starter and scored 10 points.

They’ve got a young nucleus. Chailey Cabalis (10 points) is a junior while the rest of the starters are sophomores: Shalyn Guthier (13 points), Sharlei Graham-Bernisto (13 points) and Alexis Pana, the multi-skilled point guard.

The team has depth, for now. But down the road, the Vikings could find themselves in the same boat as Kona and Waiakea. Hilo coach Ben Pana’s Keaukaha club team has five eighth graders, an erosion of numbers that will soon enough take effect.

“In the youth leagues in East Hawaii, we’ve got three teams in 14 and under,” he said. “It’s been watered down. It’s jammed up. We’ve got five eighth graders, eight in seventh grade, and in the 9 to 10 age group, we’ve got nine kids.

“A lot of kids are involved in soccer and volleyball. And volleyball is year-round with club teams. But we have to work with what we have and build upon that.”

Despite the depletion of resources, the Big Island teams have made their presence felt at the Hawaii High School Athletic Association state tournament.

In the last 10 years, Kona has won five Division I state championships, including back-to-back in 2011 and ‘12. In that same time span on the Division II level, Kamehameha has pocketed four titles, including the last two years.

Pana as well as the other coaches are hoping BIIF girls basketball can avoid that old proverb: All good things must come to an end.

“For our youth program, we have to look at doing it year-round, like volleyball,” he said. “To keep the high school programs alive, we’re going to need that feeder system. If we can do that, then girls basketball will be all right.”


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