Tuesday | May 31, 2016
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Coach Honma knows Dragons can play big-time

<p>Honokaa’s Hunter Liftee is one of the island’s best post players. ( DARRYL OUMI/Special to west hawaii today)</p>

Patience may not be her virtue, but Daphne Honma thinks big and she thinks big picture.

Back in her old stomping ground, Honma only needed to see a few offseason workouts to deem the Honokaa girls basketball team as a Division I talent stuck in a Division II format. She lobbied, unsuccessfully, to have the Dragons moved up in class.

“I always tell them we’re going to shoot for the best,” Honma said. “I thought with what we had we could have competed. Whether we were going to be the best at D-I, who knows? But I thought they could be competitive.”

As it is, the rest of D-II should probably worry about keeping up with Honokaa. The Dragons return a deep, veteran rotation that features one of the island’s best post players in Hunter Liftee and a plethora of versatile guards, and they’ve been bolstered by a pair of transfers from Hawaii Prep.

Their only D-II blemishes last season came against Kamehameha, first in the Big Island Interscholastic Federation championship and then in a rematch one week later in the Hawaii High School Athletic Association final.

The runners-up finishes were the best successes for the Dragons since Honma led them to their last BIIF title in 2006 and a third-place finish in Division I at states. She left to help the University of Hawaii at Hilo start its women’s program, coaching the Vulcans for four seasons. She said the return to high school coaching was a reality check, and the consensus is that she hasn’t lost her college mentality.

“She’s been tough,” senior Chancis Fernandez said. “She doesn’t have patience. No patience at all.

“That’s a good thing. I want somebody to push me. If we are going to play at a high level, we’re going to need that kind of focus.”

One of Honma pet peeves is when players walk around in practice. If she sees too much of it, everyone runs.

“We’re always running,” Fernandez said.

Fernandez and her sister, Eliyah, sat last season after playing for Ka Makani two years ago, and they’ll likely step in for the two starters that Honokaa lost to graduation.

Honma experimented with different starting lineups as Honokaa finished 3-4 going up against Division I teams last weekend at Kaiser’s preseason tournament on Oahu. The Dragons will see an old nemesis, Kamehameha, today at their preseason tournament, and then go up against perennial Division I powerhouse Konawaena on Saturday.

She envisions a team that can go eight or nine deep with the ability to play big when it needs to with Liftee, a senior, and Eliyah Fernandez interchangeable inside at center and power forward in half-court sets.

“They’ve had some really good high-low combinations and have found a bit of a niche,” Honma said.

But she also feels the Dragons can get out on the fastbreak and attack the lane behind speedy guards Kizzah Maltezo, Shemika Frazier and Shayla Ignacio, as well as Chancis Fernandez, a slashing small forward, and Jasmine Castro, who can play forward or guard.

“I have some athletic kids that are pretty quick,” Honma said. “They all understand they’re are going to have to play different roles.”

Honma called Maltezo a point guard with a shooting guard’s mentality. The sophomore was the first player to come off the bench last season, but she still impressed BIIF coaches enough to garner second-team all-BIIF honors.

“Coach pushes me and she looks to me to lead the team and make sure we’re at a good intensity,” Maltezo said. “When we’re intense, our game is going to be better.

“Our main focus is defense, because defense is our offense.”

Ignacio, a BIIF seconder-team last season, and Frazier, who made honorable mention, could also see time at point guard. Another guard/forward in the mix is Kayla Requelman.

The 5-foot, 9-inch Liftee was a first-team All-BIIF selection, averaging 16 points in four games at the state tournament. Opponents will likely pack their defenses inside against her until Honokaa can prove it can hit outside shots. Honma termed the team’s outside shooting as “sporadic.”

“We got better at the (Kaiser) tournament, and that can only mean good news,” said Maltezo, who shares the same lofty expectations as her coach. “We want to raise the banner and make history for our school.”