WAIMEA — The Menehune are about to make their first appearance at states in 12 years.
Waimea High School’s varsity girls basketball team starts its run today at the 2019 Snapple Girls Basketball Championships–Division II state tournament.
“As far as our season, I’m super-proud. I’m proud of the girls, proud for the community that we got to bring it back to Waimea High School,” said Waimea varsity girls basketball head coach Natalie Mata. “I think it’s been 12 years since the last KIF title. So, what these girls accomplished, it’s something super-meaningful, and I’m just glad to be a part of it.”
Mata added: “I’ll just take the time, focus on the task that’s in front of me, focus on my girls and try to do the best that we can. These girls make it a lot more easier because they’re obedient, they’re eager to learn, and they love the game.”
The last time Waimea competed at the state tournament was in 2007, according to the Hawaii High School Athletic Association.
Waimea (10-3 KIF) is unseeded in the tournament and will play Waipahu of the Oahu Interscholastic Association in the opening round. That game is set for 5 p.m. at Damien Memorial School in Honolulu.
“Honestly, I didn’t think anything. I didn’t expect to get seed or whatnot because Waimea, we haven’t been on the map for a long time,” Mata said of when the seedings and tournament brackets were released last week. “I wasn’t expecting anything. I just explained to my girls, ‘It’s just one game at a time. Just focus on the task in front of us.’”
She added of the team’s first-round opponent: “Basically, we’re expecting another team like us — they run and gun, they like to drive, play man-to-man, things like that. We see a clone of ourselves. We also got to see some film on them, so that helped a lot with me trying to study the game plan and figure out what’s best that we do.”
The Menehune clinched this year’s Kauai Interscholastic Federation championship and its berth to states Jan. 28 after defeating Kapaa High School in a playoff game for the league title.
Waimea had won the season’s first round, and Kapaa (7-6 KIF) won the season’s second round.
The Menehune girls got winning results despite fielding a small team. Just eight players will represent Waimea at the state tournament.
“That’s just all about heart,” Mata said. “It’s been tough. The way we make practice, we can’t even scrimmage five-on-five. So me and my coaches, we all got to jump in to play against them. It was a challenge, but honestly, it’s just their heart. That’s how they pull off the games. You can have all the talent in the world, but without the heart, you can’t accomplish (anything). That’s all them.”
When it comes to preparing for their first appearance at states, Mata said she’s sticking with what got the team to this point.
“Same like how we’ve been all season. The girls understand, we all understand, that this is an opportunity,” she said. “This is the best of the best that goes and plays. I just keep telling them that we get to prove and show everybody that we deserve to be here. As far as that kind of stuff, that was my whole talk. We just got to do what we’ve been doing all season. There’s the nervous jitters, of course. But I think it’s excitement now.”
And despite not having previous experience at the state tournament, and despite their low numbers, Mata expects the team to compete.
“This is a business trip. We’re competitive,” she said. “Us coaches, the players, we’re all competitive. So business first, then we have fun later.”
Wednesday’s Division II schedule
Game 1: Farrington (OIA) vs. Saint Francis (ILH), 7 p.m. at Damien Memorial School
Game 2: Waimea (KIF) vs. Waipahu (OIA), 5 p.m. at Damien Memorial School
Game 3: Kau (BIIF) vs. University (ILH), 5 p.m. at Kalani High School
Game 4: Hanalani (ILH) vs. KS-Hawaii (BIIF), 7 p.m. at Kalani High School
Seeded teams (received first-round byes): No. 1 Hawaii Baptist (ILH), No. 2 Seabury Hall (MIL), No. 3 Castle (OIA), No. 4 Hawaii Prep (BIIF)
Nick Celario, sports writer, can be reached at 245-0437 or firstname.lastname@example.org.