Champions In Sports And Academics

Team Aloha comes home (from left) Alexis Pana, Lindsay Bates, Patria Vaimaona, Keisha Kanekoa, Tyra Moe, Ihi Victor, Shantel Appleby, Chanelle Molina, Jeneva Toilolo, Fran Villarmia-Kahawai, Rodney Cavaco and the author. Photo courtesy Gail Moe

Team Aloha comes home (from left) Alexis Pana, Lindsay Bates, Patria Vaimaona, Keisha Kanekoa, Tyra Moe, Ihi Victor, Shantel Appleby, Chanelle Molina, Jeneva Toilolo, Fran Villarmia-Kahawai, Rodney Cavaco and the author. Photo courtesy Gail Moe

From girls hoops to academic hoopla, the cream of the crop in athletics and a game show that showcases brain power are my youthful topics of conversation this week.

Let’s start off with the eighth edition of Team Aloha, a collection of eight of the finest female basketball players in the 808 who just returned from Phoenix, where they competed in the Adidas Arizona Elite Spring Classic, April 25-27. Out of a field of 47 teams representing California, Washington, Oregon, Alaska, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico and Arizona, Hawaii was no ka oi with a perfect 6-0 record in the 17-and-under Top Ten Division.

The team was made up of sophomores Tyra Moe of Punahou, Shantel Appleby of Mililani, Alexis Pana of Hilo, Chanelle Molina and Ihi Victor of Konawaena, and juniors Lindsay Bates of Lahainaluna, Patria Vaimaona of Kailua and Jeneva Toilolo of Farrington. To get to the championship round, they handily defeated squads from Arizona 57-30 and Utah 60-21 before beating an Oregon team in overtime 51-46.

But this is where the plot thickens: To achieve their goal of being crowned champions, they now had to win three games in a row with only two-and-a-half hours between each game! Their competitiveness and drive paid off, as they dispatched teams from California 55-29 and Washington 45-35 before heading into the title game against a skilled Oregon Elite squad that had the advantage of playing one less game that day.

Led by the state’s player of the year, guard Chanelle Molina, who pumped in 15 points, played a dazzling floor game and hit key free throws down the stretch, and with 13 points and a bushel of rebounds from 6-foot-2 center Jeneva Toilolo, the young Wahine prevailed in the final with a 44-39 victory.

“We had to play a near-perfect game to win because our competition was a highly talented club team that plays together year round, while our girls only practice over three weekends because they come from different islands,” explains head coach Fran Villarmia-Kahawai. Assistant coach Keisha Kanekoa, who played on the only other Team Aloha group that won it all in 2006 as a prepster from Honoka’a, states that “these championships show that our local ladies can compete with the best.” Both Villarmia-Kahawai and Kanekoa played college ball as Rainbow Wahine.

Since I started the Team Aloha concept eight years ago with former UH Wahine coach Dana Takehara-Dias, one of our highest objectives is to get the girls exposure at these NCAA-sanctioned tournaments to scores of college coaches from throughout the nation. For example, in addition to UH and HPU, members of that 2006 Team Aloha squad garnered scholarships from University of Southern California, University of Nevada-Las Vegas, UC-Berkeley, Utah, Idaho State and Cal State Northridge. Other Team Aloha alums through the years received scholarships from Washington State, Brigham-Young, Indiana, Gonzaga, Arizona State and Utah State. Based on conversations we had while we were there, players on this 2014 team are drawing major interest and special attention from several Division 1 colleges. And that can only translate into great options and opportunities for these talented scholar-athletes and their families.

* While Team Aloha was victorious battling it out in the athletic world in Arizona, here in the 808 a “battle of the brains” among outstanding high school students is under way over the airwaves in a program called It’s Academic Hawaii.

“We’re really proud to produce a local TV show that highlights Hawaii kids in a positive light. Now in its third season, the game show is still as popular as ever,” says producer Wendy Suite, who gives full credit to KFVE (K5) general manager John Fink for bringing the show to Hawaii.

The program is a spinoff of Washington, D.C.-based It’s Academic, the longest-running TV quiz show in the world. The local version airs every Wednesday night at 7 on K5 The Home Team. Waiakea High teacher Whitney Aragaki believes the show teaches participants to remain calm and collected confronting a live audience. “They may know an answer, but under a time limit and social pressure, it ups the ante even more.”

Complete with buzzers and a charismatic host in Hawaii News Now anchor Keahi Tucker, the HD primetime program has a Jeopardy-like format and is a venue for students to compete and network on an academically challenging playing field. TV viewers also can play along at home and answer questions about history, geography, math, science, literature, pop culture and other trivia. Participants are from public, private and charter schools throughout Hawaii.

Waiakea, led by Mark Seu, Katie Torigoe and Patrick Peng, were the inaugural state champions during the show’s 2012 launch. They are now engineering students at Dartmouth College, Stanford and Northwestern University, respectively.

“It was satisfying to be able to beat kids from the private prep institutions, especially since we came from a public high school in Hilo,” says Peng.

Punahou copped top honors in 2013. The quiz show is endorsed by the state Department of Education, Hawaii Association of Independent Schools, and sponsored by the Hawaii State Teachers Association.

Congratulations again to members of Team Aloha, and good luck to the finalists who will face off in the It’s Academic Hawaii showdown come May 28, proving once again excellence in the classroom is alive and flourishing in Hawaii Nei.