Mustangs Take States With New Coach Smith At The Helm

Kalaheo Josh Ko

Kalaheo Mustang team captains Josh Ko (left) and Derick Morgan proudly lift the school’s Division II state champion basketball trophy after the team defeated McKinley 57-42 Feb. 25 at Blaisdell Arena. Photo from Linda Rasmussen.

Perhaps the best symbol of Kalaheo’s recent state championship run in basketball is the expansive trophy itself. Its temporary home is in head coach Alika Smith’s own house.

“I’m going to have to give it to the school soon, but I want to bask in it a little longer,” Smith said.

No one will begrudge Smith a little extra time with the trophy. The school’s trophy case already is full anyway, in large part because of its basketball program, and some extra space must be located. The most recent championship is the school’s fourth overall, including the three won by Smith’s father, the late Pete Smith, who led Kalaheo to titles in 1985, 1995 and 2001. As a player, Alika was part of three OIA title teams while playing for his father, but the state title eluded the school in those otherwise-memorable years. The Mustangs won the state championship the following year when Smith was playing for University of Hawaii.

“I was the problem,” Smith joked.

Smith’s 2011-12 team appeared on track for great things since the beginning of preseason. While it missed the state tournament by a game last year, it had a solid summer and steadily built on its momentum and cohesiveness, finishing 296 including preseason games and win streaks of eight, six and five (on two different occasions) during the season. Despite those numbers, it all could have ended differently when Kalaheo lost to McKinley in the OIA DII Tournament. Facing elimination, Smith called a 7 a.m. practice for the following morning, a Sunday, and kept the team for three hours.

“Each of them came, and each of them gave me everything that they had,” recalled Smith. “We had to refocus. Basically, it was one(loss) and done. Had we lost to Farrington, everything would have been lost.”

Instead the Mustangs won that all-important game with Farrington, 43-27, and followed with back-to-back wins over McKinley in the championship round to win the OIA. Kalaheo’s wins at the DII state tournament the following week came against Kohala (52-39), Seabury Hall (38-36) and McKinley (57-42) yet again in the title game. In all, Kalaheo finished the season on a five-game win streak.

“The kids buying into our system is a credit to them,” said Smith, whose team went 9-2 in games decided by five points or less. “They’ve come a long way. They all had the same goal, and they knew they had to do the work. They kept working and grew together, and it paid off. They stuck together and plugged away in a lot of close games.”

The Mustangs will move up to Division I next season and figure to be one of the more experienced teams around, as they’ll lose only one starter (Jordyn Reindollar) from this year’s team and will return seven of their top eight players.

Kalaheo’s 2011-12 team also included fellow starters Josh Ko, Shem Sukumaran, Nainoa Frank and Derick Morgan, as well as reserves Chandler Roth, Keisuke Salazar, Jesten MortensenFreitas, Kalani Green, Kaohu Summers, Silia Tucker, Anthony Rowan and Michael Leong.

“They put themselves on the map, and they put the school back on the map, and we hope to stay there,” Smith said.

The school is planning a lunch and celebration assembly for the team in the coming days.