KEALAKEKUA — Hawaii Prep is a testament of the old adage that it’s not how you start, but how you finish.
Ka Makani lost eight of their first nine games to open the season, but found their groove at the right time in the playoffs.
One day after upsetting defending D-II state champion Kamehameha-Hawaii, Hawaii Prep beat Ka‘u in the BIIF Division II girls basketball championship game 38-32 at Ellison Onizuka Gymnasium on Saturday night, securing the program’s first title in more than a decade.
“Winning this title means a lot,” Ka Makani head coach Lacey Hester said. “Being my first year, there were some doubters but we came through. The girls knew what they wanted, knew how to get there and here we are.”
Maja Burdova led the way for Hawaii Prep (4-8), recording a double-double with 16 points and 10 rebounds. She also was one of the team’s primary ball handlers down the stretch as they tried to run out the clock and hold off a Trojan charge.
“I think I was aggressive to the basket, but I could have been better,” Burdova said. “I am here for my first year and I could not ask for more than to win a championship.”
Burdova, who is from the Czech Republic, had a surprise visitor stop by the Big Island for three days during the BIIF tournament, which provided some motivation.
“My dad surprised me from all the way from the other side of the world,” Burdova said. “He came just to see me play for the BIIF championship.”
Ka’iulani Bento added four points and 11 rebounds for Ka Makani before fouling out.
Albeit some of the statistics are inflated due to a top heavy BIIF with three Division I juggernauts, Ka Makani gave up 42 points per game this season. In the team’s final three games, that number shrunk to 27, including a near masterpiece for three quarters against Ka‘u.
The Trojans (5-7) did not go down without a fight, scoring 17 fourth quarter points — more than they had in the previous three quarters combined — to make Hawaii Prep sweat.
“We knew that Ka‘u had that in them. We knew they had no quit,” Hester said. “We were prepared for it and knew we had to build a lead early because they have a scrappy fourth quarter defense.”
Reishalyn Kekoa Jara netting 11 points and 10 rebounds to go with two steals for Ka‘u.
The Trojans were seeking their first title in school history, but will have to wait at least another year. However, Ka‘u will have an opportunity to play in its first state tournament, along side Ka Makani and Kamehameha which earned the league’s third spot by winning the regular season.
The HHSAA tournament runs from Feb. 6-9 on Oahu.
The BIIF’s Division II has long been one of the toughest in the state, so gaining a foothold has been no easy task. Either Kamehameha or Honokaa had played for a state title the past eight seasons, with the Dragons winning twice (2014, ’15) and the Warriors thrice (2018, ’13, ’12).
When Ka Makani last went to the state tournament in 2012, the team won a pair of games before falling in the semifinals to Kauai, 34-33.
“”I don’t know anything about the teams on Oahu right now because it is my first year,” Hester said. “It is a little bit of a disadvantage for me but I know this team knows how to achieve goals. We will set a goal and I foresee us getting it.”
It was the second meeting between the teams this year. In a game earlier this season, Ka‘u used a second half rally to beat Hawaii Prep 47-41.
With a title on the line, Ka Makani wouldn’t let this one slip away. After building a 20-9 halftime lead, it wasn’t until late in the fourth quarter that the Trojans were able to cut the lead to single digits.
The final two minutes featured some drama, with Ka‘u’s full court pressure forcing a few turnovers. However, Hawaii Prep did enough to come away with their biggest win in more than a decade.