Surfriders In State Hoops Finals

Should the Kailua girls basketball team make a run in this week’s Division I state tournament, its collective cohesiveness would be a huge factor, and nothing would please head coach Mandy Llamedo more.

Since she took over the program in 2012, developing team unity has been a prevailing theme. “We have the tools to do well at both ends of the floor, but chemistry is the most important thing at this point in the season,” said Llamedo, who led Kailua to a 9-5 mark as well as a fourth-place finish at the recent OIA tournament. “A lot of this season has been about bringing them together. We’re hoping they can gel this week.

Even if Kailua’s season had ended at the OIA tournament, it still would have finished with work well done. But this still is a team with untapped potential, in Llamedo’s view. “What’s scary is that we still haven’t played our best basketball yet,” she said.

“We’ve had a lot of good moments, but we haven’t had a game yet where everything clicked. They’ve had to work together for every win. If we play our best at the state tournament, we can surprise some people even more.”

Kailua is in its first year of competing in Division I since the state separated into two divisions in 2004. The Surfriders made the DII state tournament last season and have continued their upward mobility ever since. Despite a pair of tough losses last week to Roosevelt and Moanalua, Llamedo still has her eye on “the big picture.”

“The Roosevelt game was a very tough loss, but we’ve put it in perspective and the kids are extremely proud of where they’ve come from,” she said. “I feel like this is the best Kailua team to come through here in a while. I look at this as a team everyone will remember.”

Asked what has pleased her most, Llamedo answered without hesitation. “Their willingness to do what we’ve been asking them to do.”

As throughout the season, the team is counting on veterans Tara Takata and Taufau Williams to be impact players at states. Williams, who is a forward, is averaging a team-high

17.7 points per game.

Takata is a guard currently scoring at an 8.9 clip.

“In every game they’ve combined for a lot of the scoring. They’ve been our one-two punch. They connect well on the floor, and that makes them difficult to stop. They’ve been the core.”

Patricia Vaimoana has been an unsung heroes, meanwhile. “She’s not showing up in the scoring column, but her rebounding and her play on the defen-sive end (have made a difference),” Llamedo said. “Those are the three who have really run this team.”

The DI state tournament begins Friday with first-round games at sites that were still to be determined at press time. The quarterfinals will follow Saturday. The semifinals are Feb. 14 at McKinley High, while the title game is Feb. 15 at Blaisdell Arena.

Llamedo was to learn of Kailua’s first-round opponent late last week.