Despite Rough Start, IPA Navigators Vie For Tourney Berth

Island Pacific Academy girls varsity basketball team didn’t scream success right away. First-year head coach Reggie Griffin didn’t take over until late November and had only a few players on his roster during the Navigators’ early work-outs.

“We had three or four, but only three were able to come to practice regularly, so it was iffy whether or not the season would happen,” said Griffin. “We wound up picking up some kids from the intermediate team when their season ended in December, and they really blossomed after that.”

Some six weeks later, the Navigators find themselves in a battle for a state tournament berth this week. IPA went 7-2 to finish in first place in ILH Division III. Among the rewards was an automatic berth in the league’s DII playoffs. The Navigators were to play Le Jardin Academy Saturday in hopes of extending their season.

Regardless of that outcome, IPA already has qualified as the 2015 feel-good story on the prep sports scene. “They’re kind of a Cinderella story,” said the coach. “Nobody expected us to do this well. They were happy to just see us field a team, and we didn’t become a full team until late December. We’ve definitely had some adversity, but the girls have overcome it. They’ve taken to the program, do the things they have to do, and their success has been a wonderful thing.”

In addition to being a month behind most schools by the time its roster filled up, the varsity team also had to weather the absence of players leaving Oahu for holiday vacations. IPA played no preseason games at all.

Its season-opening win over Hawaiian Mission Academy in overtime 53-48 Dec. 15 was a huge confidence booster, according to Griffin. “The girls did quite well that night, and they were pretty happy about it.”

From there, the girls went on to win seven of their next eight games to clinch the ILH DIII title. Leadership has been among its strengths, according to Griffin, who had high praise for senior Tia Odoardi and junior Erica Brenner.

Odoardi averaged 17.3 points per game during the season, while Brenner scored at a 9.8 clip. “Both have done really well with leading the girls by example. The rest of our team is made up of freshmen and 10th-graders.”

And four players are new to the sport. “They’ve all taken to the game quite well,” Griffin said. “We began to teach fundamentals first before we ever talked about strategy or got them into a system.”

The Navigators also have learned to make good use of their time. Unlike most high school teams, IPA practices three days a week instead of five or six and still holds its workouts outdoors, as the school is without a gym of its own.

“We don’t want to affect their studies or have them too tired (to perform). We only practice three days, but during those three days, the girls give us their all.”

As far as their on-court play, defense has been the Navigators’ forte by design.

“We taught defense before they ever picked up a ball,” said Griffin, who spent seven years coaching in the Mililani boys program in addition to coaching stops in Chicago and New York. “They’ve learned how to score from their defense.”

IPA’s schedule for this week was pending the outcome of last Saturday’s ILH DII first-round playoff game with Le Jardin.

The top four finishers at this week’s ILH DII tournament will earn the league’s berths for the state DII girls basketball tournament, set for Feb. 10-13 at various Oahu sites.