Every act of aloha counts. Click here to DONATE to the MAUI RELIEF Fund.            

Kalaheo In Good Position For OIA Championship Round

For the Kalaheo basketball team, the last nine days have been all about fine-tuning. Not that the Mustangs took their foot off of the accelerator.

Indeed, head coach Alika Smith gave his players Sunday off, but they were to practice daily this week (and last week) as they prepare for Friday night’s OIA Division II championship round game at home versus McKinley.

The layoff between games is a coach’s dream, but not as appealing for the players, to hear Smith tell it.

“I’m sure they’re going to be itching to play, which is a good thing,” said Smith, whose team’s last game was a 43-27 win over Farrington. “I like it (the break in the middle of the tournament). This is where I like to tighten the screws and add a wrinkle here and there. We’re glad to have Friday’s game at home.”

Kalaheo enters Friday’s game having won eight in a row and 13 of their last 14 dating back to Dec. 30. Their only loss came to Kahuku, which is competing in Division I this post-season. Smith and the Mustangs have been especially good on the defensive end lately, a trend he hopes continues this weekend and into the upcoming DII state tournament at the end of the month. (Kalaheo has held nine of their last 10 opponents to under 40 points.)

A win Friday night would put Kalaheo in the driver’s seat in the OIA tournament since it had yet to lose and would secure a state tournament berth. (A team cannot lose two in a row in the OIA tournament as a rule.) Championship-round games also will be held Feb. 14, 16 and 18, if necessary.

Smith likes his team’s current position but admitted, “We still have work to do. We just have to work at getting better and better with each practice.

“It’s good to be on the winning side, and to see these kids grow from last year to now makes it more satisfying. It’s a tribute to how much these kids like each other and enjoy playing together.”

Kalaheo’s balance also has gone a long way toward its success with Josh Ko, Derick Morgan (7.2 ppg), Nainoa Frank (9.1 ppg), Shem Sukumaran, Jordan Reindollar and sixth-man, Silila Tucker all filling out their roles nicely.

The Mustangs’ ability to work from the inside out also has paid dividends. With that in mind, Smith had special praise for the play of Frank in the post. “He’s been a huge asset,” Smith said of Frank, who is a 6-foot-6 junior. “He gives us a low post threat (offensively) and defensively. He’s been an unsung hero. We wouldn’t be where we are without him or anyone else on the team.”

Kalaheo last won a state title in 2001 under Smith’s father, the late Pete Smith. The numbers are encouraging from a historical perspective as it pursues the Division II title. Since the HHSSA split into two divisions, public schools have dominated the DII state tournament, producing the champion all five years, with four having come out of the OIA.