Basketball: Big Isle standouts help Team Aloha repeats as champ at Elite is Earned Invitational

  • Team Aloha traveled to the Elite Is Earned Spring Invitational held April 26-28 in Walnut Creek, California. Courtesy Photo

Team Aloha, an all-star girls basketball squad, earned its second consecutive championship title at the Elite Is Earned Spring Invitational held April 26-28 in Walnut Creek, California.

The team posted a perfect 4-0 record during the three-day event. Last year, Team Aloha was a perfect 5-0.

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“Our athletes showed tremendous discipline and stamina in our victories,” said Team Aloha head coach and founder Mufi Hannemann. “The girls’ exceptional defense proved to be the key, as their unrelenting press and teamwork wore down our opponents, and they made key baskets and free-throws down the stretch.”

The tournament was sanctioned by the NCAA, meaning nearly 100 college coaches and scouts were in attendance. Many represented Big West Conference schools as well as other schools from the western part of the mainland.

The team, the 13th in program history, consisted of nine underclassmen: three juniors, four sophomores, and two freshmen.

These underclasmen included Big Island standouts Caiyle Kaupu of Konawaena — who was selected for the third straight year — and Waiakea’s Kelsie Imai. Other underclassmen on the squad were Leiah Naeata (Kahuku), Lily Wahinekapu (Iolani), Jaylen Tanuvasa(Maryknoll).

Returnees Kaupu, Naeata, Tanuvasa and Imai were contributing members of 2018 championship squad.

Wahinekapu was joined by her sister, Jovi Lefotu, from Division I state champion Iolani, as well as Noelle Sua-Godinet (Kamehameha-Kapalama), Lishae Scanlan (Hanalani) and Tatianna Burciaga-Reyes (Punahou)

In qualifying for the title matchup, the Hawaii girls posted preliminary round victories against the Salt Lake Metro Black of Utah (58-22), Portland’s Northwest Stars Navy (64-52) and 90TEN Team Black of Washington (52-25).

“For the second straight year, Team Aloha came to the Elite is Earned Spring Invitational and proved how good the basketball is in Hawaii,” said Chris Hansen, managing editor of ProspectsNation.com and director of Elite Is Earned Basketball. “Competing in a field with teams from eight states and two countries, Coach Mufi and his staff have the team playing at a very high level in front of nearly 100 college coaches this weekend.”

In the championship game against the Washington Swarm, who boasted several players recruited by NCAA Division I teams, Team Aloha earned a 53-48 win to take the crown.

Kaupu, Wahinekapu, Lefotu, Tanuvasa, Naeata and Imai played key roles in leading Team Aloha to a come-from-behind victory.

Kaupu led all scorers in the finals with 16 points and she added eight rebounds. Kaupu was a dominant presence in the paint and flashed her ability to score from the perimeter and to run the floor which drew lots of attention from the college recruiters in attendance.

“Team Aloha plays a tough and fun style of basketball that fans and coaches loved to watch,” Hansen said. “In the championship game, they gritted out a tough win against the Washington Swarm… It was an impressive showing.”

Imai was the spark plug of the defense, which was a big reason why Team Aloha went undefeated. She always drew the toughest defensive assignment, guarding the opposition’s top guard, while the defense limited opponents to 37 points a game.

The BIIF Player of the Year also excelled in penetrating to the basket and scoring or dishing to an open teammate.

“I’ve said time and time again that our girls can compete against the best in the nation, and our continued competitiveness shows the caliber of home-grown talent we have,” Hannemann said. “It also bears mention that our participation in these sanctioned mainland tournaments has led to a number of our players — who otherwise might have escaped recognition because of limited exposure at home — coming to the attention of college recruiters. That was the case last year and this year as well.”

Assisting Hannemann were veteran girls prep basketball coaches Sherice Ajifu, Rodney Cavaco and Rodney Veary.

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Hannemann, who played at Iolani School and Harvard University, and was the Raiders head JV and varsity boys hoops coach and assisted at Maryknoll School, has sponsored his girls Basketball Jamboree for the past 27 years in support of Title IX and gender equity. He began coaching women’s basketball when he was a Fulbright Scholar studying, playing and coaching basketball in New Zealand.

Hannemann has taken Team Aloha squads to the mainland for over a decade and this was their fourth overall championship. They were runners-up on four other occasions. Overall, the girls have won nearly 80 percent of their contests.

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