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NIT Preview: Kahuku HS (Hawaii)

  • 07 May 2019

For approximately 24 hours across May 18-19, Kahuku High School has the potential to be both the reigning champion of the Single-School National Invitational Tournament (NIT), and the current champion of the High School Club NIT. The Hawaiian high school switched fields this year to align with its male counterpart’s first trip to NITs, and with it comes a unique opportunity.

“This has crossed our minds and would really set the bar for any single-school team to accomplish,” Kahuku High School head coach Nusi Tukuafu considered the two titles, “but the reality is multi-school club teams should have the top players on the field at all times since they have a pool of players to draw from. We can only draw from who shows up to training after school, but we knew this going into the Club NIT.”

The Raiders decided early on to commit to the HS Club NIT, and tested itself with a tour to Utah and games against Brighton/Wasatch, East and then United. There was a ton of intention in that trip, starting with the nature of the schedule – increasing competition on consecutive days – to experiencing the higher elevation. The middle school team was also active, competing in the NorCal Invitational and Tropical 7s in Florida.

These trips occurred during the Hawaii 15s season. At the end of April, Kahuku repeated as the state 15s champion after a 68-0 quarterfinal win over Kona, 48-7 semifinal win over Hilo, and then a 28-0 victory over Big Island United. Senior captain and flyhalf Taina Scott was named backs MVP, and sophomore No. 8 Liana Holani was named forwards MVP.

“Our performance during the state tournament showed us coaches that as a team we are on track with our skill set, our conditioning, and team chemistry,” Tukuafu reviewed the performances. “These team wins gave us an insight to how we can run a 7s pace in a 15s match and with two weeks to work out the small details.”

Taina Scott (Photo: Leola Garvida)

There’s confidence in the attack. Backs captain and flyhalf Taina Scott, who was named backs MVP at states, and forwards captain Kawaii Akina are the veterans who drive the offense.

“We’ve got quite a few players that, when working altogether, can really open up the field with their speed and aggressive play. Scrumhalf Kuulei Uluave and fullback Salome Unga-Lewis have really come on as strong finishers in 15s and 7s, which all of our backs participated in,” the coach continued. “Newcomer Aja Tapusoa will be wearing the number seven jersey and had a great breakout tour the last time we were in the Salt Lake Valley, but my focus will be on sophomore No. 8 Liana Holani, who was the forwards MVP in the state tournament. Her play selection and decision-making really puts her ahead of her age.”

But this season has really been about developing defense, and the depth of that fortitude and connection will be key in the high school club bracket.

Liana Holani (Photo: Leola Garvida)

“We really had to put in work this year as far as developing a better defensive game since we are a bit smaller physically when playing multi-school teams,” Tukuafu noted. “Since our team is predominantly sophomore/freshmen age, their progress was fast-tracked with intense training sessions so they would be able to keep up with our veteran players. I’m confident we can handle a heavy forward attack or a team with a fast backline.”

There is a lot of physicality awaiting Kahuku in Salt Lake City, with teams like United, South Bay and Sacramento bringing size and power. If the defense is on, then the attack will flow.

“We should be peaking as a team in the first match at NIT,” Tukuafu added. “The end-goal right now is to make it to the final match. We get to that point then we’ll have to make a new goal.”

This trip has the makings of a special experience – and not just because there’s a “first ever” on the line. Kahuku is making its first appearance at the Boy’s Single-School NIT, which is also occurring in Salt Lake City the same weekend.

“The sacrifice these ladies are making in order to help cut travel costs so that their classmates would be able to participate in their first-ever NIT speaks volumes,” Tukuafu praised the players. “Rather than defending their 2018 [Single-School NIT] title, they’ll be playing in a much more stronger competition with a two-time Club NIT team with United. Not an easy task but then we’re not about easy anyways. The ladies will do their best and that’s all we as coaches can ask for.”

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