After missing last season with a knee injury, Kehaulani Lee is itching to make a difference for the Kealakehe girls basketball team, which could use someone who provides a constant emotional charge.
On the last day of the Waiakea Invitational preseason tournament, the host Warriors applied a defensive visegrip and thumped the Waveriders 62-10, showing a sizable disparity between the two Big Island Interscholastic Federation Division I teams.
“We have to learn how to work as a team,” Lee said. “Defensively, we have to stick to our man and talk to each other. Communication is a big thing.
“We have really good chemistry and have bonded like a family. From the start, there’s been no drama, and that’s good for girls. I like talking to the team and making them feel calm and comfortable, especially the new girls.”
The 5-foot-8 forward is one of four senior starters. The others are Tiani Terazono, Teria Kekuaokalani and Taylor Mitchell. Kaleanani Anakalea-Haleamau, a junior, is the other starter for a West Hawaii team playing in Konawaena’s large shadow.
The husband and wife team of Danny and Lynelle Kamakau are back coaching the Waveriders for the second straight season. In 2003, Kealakehe reached the Hawaii High School Athletic Association state tournament for the first and only time under the Kamakau coaching tandem.
Over on the boys side, Danny Kamakau coached Kealakehe to its first state appearance in 2002. The Waveriders captured the BIIF championship in 2004. Then he stopped coaching four years later.
He missed molding youngsters while incorporating life lessons into his basketball routine. He’s got a deep roster with 18 players. Kamakau has a suitable candidate in Lee, who carries a 3.2 grade-point average.
She is already on track with her future. Lee fell in love with Pacific (Ore.) University when she visited the campus for a recruiting trip. She plans to major in psychology and help children some day.
“She’s a team leader and works hard. She’s a smart player. She just needs to be pushed in the right direction,” Kamakau said. “Last season, we missed her a whole bunch. We definitely missed her leadership. She just has a presence on the floor and gives the girls confidence in what they have to do.
“I missed the camaraderie with a team and teaching and sharing knowledge. Sports and life have a relationship, and they go hand-in-hand. It’s about striving and doing the best that you possibly can, and never giving up, no matter what the adversity.”
The Waveriders have a deep pool of available bodies — roughly 1,500 students, or more than double Konawaena. But the Wildcats carry the basketball torch in West Hawaii. They’ve gone to states 11 straight times, winning five championships during that span.
Kamakau believes the busy winter season gives girls at Kealakehe a lot of options, especially soccer with its youth programs. No surprise, the Waveriders are establishing a foothold in soccer; they won the BIIF title last season and were runner-up the previous year.
“We as coaches are willing to take anybody,” he said. “We’re always happy to take anyone who comes out for basketball. The objective is to get the youth involved in some kind of organized sport because you know you have to be academically eligible to play. We help them with that.”
Asked about chasing a first BIIF title for the girls, Kamakau offered a hand-in-hand answer.
“If we strive and continue to improve and get better, that’s more important,” he said. “The team has mental toughness. They persevere and definitely show a lot of dedication. They’ve got things that can’t be taught. We’ve just got to bring it out of them.”