BIIF girls basketball: Lopez took holistic approach to coaching Trojans

  • RICK OGATA photo Under the watchful eye of coach Cy Lopez, Ka'u's Heidi Vidal looks to make a move against Hilo High during the 2020 BIIF basketball season. It was likely Lopez's last after nine seasons at the helm of the Trojans.

Usually when you inherit a program coming off a winless season, the words “big shoes” and “fill” aren’t part of the deal.

But the next Ka’u girls basketball coach will face some form of expectations after Cy Lopez left his own distinctive stamp on the program. His nine-year legacy includes far more lopsided losses than wins, yes, but also one shining on-court high as well as several personal success stories.

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“Out here, it’s really hard as a small school with no feeder system, but we tried our best year in and year out, and our main goal was to get these kids doing something after school,” Lopez said Wednesday. “We wanted to show them the right direction, and if we could to get them a chance to go to college.”

Lopez said he and his wife and assistant, Jennifer Makuakane, helped seven Trojans players sign to play basketball in college, and they also founded Hokulele basketball club, which has since been turned over to Ravel Kaupu.

“Everybody wants to win, but for us it was a little different,” Lopez said. “We wanted to give the players time to grow and make them a better of life.”

The 2020 season, an 0-10 campaign, was the hardest of his tenure as Ka’u struggled to replace the nine seniors who a year earlier helped the Trojans reach the HHSAA Division II tournament for the first time. After the season, Ka’u athletic director Kalei Namohala told Lopez she was reopening the coach’s position. On Wednesday, Namohala said it was still open and that Lopez was welcome to apply.

Will he?

Probably not, he said.

“She said she wanted to try something new, and I respect that,” Lopez said. “I think it’s probably a sign.”

He and Makuakane each work in the school and have six children as they try to sort out what the educational landscape looks like during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I hope they hire someone who takes care of the kids and has passion to continue what we tried to do,” he said.

The Trojans won six games in 2019, and two in particular stand out in Lopez’s memory.

Ka’u pulled away from Honokaa 47-33 in the BIIF semifinals to clinch its state tournament berth on Oahu, and afterward Lopez told West Hawaii Today it felt like the Trojans “won the state title.”

Ka’u lost to Hawaii Prep in the BIIF final and it fell to University in the first round at the state tournament before rebounding to beat Kamehameha-Hawaii in consolation play, earning the chance to play at Honolulu’s Stan Sheriff Center.

“That was the ultimate high,” Lopez said of the experience. “An unreal feeling, and just to have the chance to go and compete was a win. I’m glad we had an opportunity to bring the girls along.”

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Namohala also is accepting applications for a boys basketball coach until Monday, and they can be picked up at the school’s main office.

For more information, call Namohala at 313-4100.

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