The score was out of hand and had been for some time, but you wouldn’t have known it by watching Cy Lopez or his Ka‘u girls basketball team.
Sophomore Lea Aipia-Dolan and her teammates continued to try to attack the basket as if the game was tied, while Lopez did everything he could to keep his team in the game. With the undersized Trojans trailing Waiakea by more than 40 points, the coach called three second-half timeouts to rally the troops, and he delivered the same message each time.
“It’s basically just keeping our heads up and fighting no matter what the score is,” junior Denisha Navarro said. “We‘re working hard, we’re improving and I feel like as long as all of us keep our teamwork together, we’ll be fine.
“He tells us to never give up. If we put our hearts on the court, we’ll get better results.”
Such was the case earlier in the preseason at the Trojans’ tournament in Pahala. Lopez called a timeout with Ka‘u trailing by one against Kealakehe in the waning seconds to draw up a “secret inbounds play.” Bridget Pasion missed a shot from the perimeter, but Kerri Domondon corralled the rebound and hit a buzzer-beater to give the Trojans the victory.
“That was a good moment for our players,” Lopez said. “I give the girls credit. No matter what the score, from start to finish, they play 110 percent.”
The second-year coach would like to make winning a custom at Ka‘u, but he knows that player development is crucial. Save for a long drive to the north or south, age-group club basketball options are sparse, and as a result Lopez said many of his players haven’t touched the ball before they get to high school. In addition, many of his players’ first focus is volleyball.
Lopez played three sports at Ka‘u before graduating in 1991, and he coached baseball and volleyball at his alma mater in the past. But it’s girls basketball that he’d like to see thrive, and he and his coaches are aiming to start a Parks and Recreation league in the district.
“We live out in the sticks and we’re a small school, but we can’t get intimidated,” Lopez said. “The girls are interested to come out and learn.
“The main thing we stress is trying to get these girls to love the sport. Not only to play to have something to do, but to get it in them as a passion.”
The Trojans finished 1-10 in Big Island Interscholastic Federation Division II last year, but Lopez would like to see his team put itself in position to win half its games this season.
Ka‘u, which has only one senior, can’t match up with most teams size-wise, but it will try to make up for it with quickness and will feature a three-guard lineup with juniors Navarro and Domondon capable of running the point. Pasion, a junior, is the best pure shooter on the team, and Aipia-Dolan, a sophomore, can play either guard or forward. At roughly 5 feet 8 inches tall, junior Maka Flores-Carvalho is the tallest player on the roster and can provide muscle inside.
“Denisha is a real team leader, and Kerri has unreal quickness with the ball,” said Lopez, who praised Aipia-Dolan for her “animal instincts” to always keep fighting on the court.
He said the Trojans may have to play some 2-3 zone defense to overcome lack of height, and he’d also like to see crisper passing develop so that Ka‘u can play uptempo on offense.
The Trojans open their BIIF season tonight at Kamehameha, and Navarro noted that there is one sure way to overcome issues with size and inexperience.
“Everybody fights until the end,” she said.