LIHUE — This year’s Red Raiders squad has seen its ups and downs this season. But at the end, they’ve won the league title and are headed for states.
Kauai High School’s varsity girls basketball team (6-3 KIF, 2-2 2nd round, 1-0 playoff) is unseeded at the Snapple Girls Basketball Championships – Division II state tournament.
“Being that I’m one of the seniors on the team, it feels really good winning a championship,” said senior guard Monique Tomacder. “We deserved it because we worked our butts off to get to where we are.”
Kauai High, which won the Kauai Interscholastic Federation season’s first round, defeated second round-winner Kapaa (6-3 KIF, 4-0 2nd round, 0-1 playoff) in the championship game, 53-31, last week.
“It happened so fast,” Tomacder said. “All I saw was (junior center Taegan Keep) lobbed the ball to (freshman guard Marissa Layosa), and Marissa made it and time went out. I remember I sprinted to Marissa. I was one of the first ones to tackle her, actually. I was just happy. I started crying. I didn’t stop crying. I was just hugging everybody on the team.”
Kauai High varsity girls basketball head coach James Dingus said on that night winning the KIF title, “We played our best game in the biggest game.”
“We put all the pieces together. Everybody did their job. They executed. They understood what their roles were, and that was what all the coaches saw in their mind’s eye the whole year,” Dingus said. “Being able to come together as a group, the girls bought into the idea of playing as a team. That was what we did, and so that was gratifying.”
The team will be treading in unfamiliar water. Neither Dingus or any player this year has experience at the state tournament.
“I think it goes back to what we were talking about — to make sure that we play and stay ourselves,” Dingus said. “Nobody tries to do anything drastically different. We got to go to the state tournament because we played together as a team, and everybody knows what their expectations are, what their role is and how we fit together. We just want to keep doing that. Even though the gyms are going to be different and we’re going to be on a different island, we still want to play the same way.”
In the opening round, Kauai High will face Kohala of the Big Island Interscholastic Federation. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. tonight at Kalani High School in Honolulu.
“I don’t really know much about that team. But if we do what we’re planning to do, just keep doing what we’re doing and just working together, I think we can do it,” said senior guard Sheryl Tomas.
Dingus said his team and its upcoming opponent are alike, which should make for an interesting first round matchup.
“Done a little bit of research. I’ve heard that they’re kind of a similar team, really,” he said. “They’ve got a post player that can make a difference in a game. They’ve got a couple of guards that can shoot. So in a lot of ways, it’s a mirror image. So, we’ll see how accurate that is, and if we can play our way.
“That’s about all I know. But really, once you get to a state tournament, all the teams have won games. All the teams know how to play together. Nobody there is chopped liver. That’s why it’s a state tournament. So everything from seeding to the opening round games, you just got to try to play your best ball,” he continued.
If the Red Raiders were to win the Division II crown, Tomas said, “That would feel incredible.”
“Being a senior and playing varsity for three years and being close every single year and not really making it, now we have an opportunity to take it all the way,” she said. “We’ve worked so hard to take the KIF championship. We accomplished that goal. We’re doing whatever we can to, hopefully, take home the D2 championship and not only make our school proud, but the island of Kauai proud.”
Regardless of what happens, Dingus said winning the KIF championship and earning a berth at states is an accomplishment in itself, and that his team should be proud.
“We won our regular season title, and that’s something nobody can take away,” he said. “That’s something that we’ll talk about after the tournament no matter what happens when we’re over there. They won a KIF championship together, and that’s pretty special.
“The state tournament, kind of like gravy,” he continued. “We want to go, and we want to compete. I think we can compete with everybody that’s there. But again, not everybody gets to go. So hopefully, we play loose and relaxed, and have built some good memories that they can take with them as they go into the offseason. Or for the seniors, move on to other aspects of their life.”