Lahainaluna Hoping to Host Division II Semifinal
By Rodney S. Yap
If everything goes as planned, the road to the state Division II football championships will go through Lahainaluna High School — literally.
Finishing the season in Aloha Stadium, playing in the finals of the state Division II football championship, is the Lunas’ annual goal and winning the title is the only task yet to be accomplished.
Anything less than returning to championship final next month would be a disappointment for the top-ranked Lunas, who clinched a postseason berth last Friday after earning their 15th consecutive Maui Interscholastic League win at King Kekaulike.
For the first time, however, the Lunas may get a chance to host a playoff game at the school’s new Sue D. Cooley Stadium. And that possibility has fans of Lahainaluna football thrilled.
“I’m sure everybody would be excited to see something like that,” said Lahainaluna co-head coach Bobby Watson. “We just have to hope for the best and hopefully things work out for us.”
First and foremost, the Lunas must continue to win and preserve their No. 1 ranking, which comes with a first-round bye. Secondly, the new stadium needs to be ready, and that includes all exterior repaving, parking and handicapped access.
Last month the Lahainaluna High School Foundation, which oversees the construction project, moved the team’s scheduled homecoming game for Oct. 18 against Baldwin to War Memorial Stadium. The original plan had the team’s homecoming game as its inaugural event for the 3,000-seat on-campus facility.
Watson said all the stadium construction would have been finished in time to host Baldwin, but more time was needed to complete the exterior road work on Lahainaluna Road and adjacent parking lots.
If Lahainaluna wins its remaining games it will draw the tournament’s No. 1 or No. 2 seed, which means the MIL representative would host a semifinal game on Saturday, Nov. 15. But that scenario, or any other for that matter, won’t be decided until the state Division II committee meets the Sunday before the tournament starts on Nov. 8.
The Hawaii High School Athletic Association has Aloha Stadium and sites to be determined (TBD) on its website www.sportshigh.com.
“I really hope so,” answered Watson when asked about the Lunas’ chances of unveiling their new multimillion-dollar facility under the gridiron lights. “But we don’t make the call on that. The state has a committee that decides, but if we do get a chance to host a playoff game, I hope that is something that everybody keeps in mind.
“It would be nice for us to have it in Lahaina, but that is for Joe Balangitao (MIL Executive Secretary) and Blaine Gaison (Kamehameha Maui athletic director in charge of football) to push for. . . . I personally don’t see why we couldn’t have it during the playoffs.”
Lahainaluna was awarded the No. 1 seed twice in its last eight consecutive state tournament appearances. In 2007 the Lunas beat visiting Kaimuki at War Memorial Stadium, 52-20. The following week they loss the championship to Iolani 28-21. The Lunas were undefeated and No. 1 last year when they hosted Kaiser here and was eliminated by the Cougars 20-9.
“They will probably get a bye and be seeded either one (No. 1) or two (No. 2) depending on how they finish the season. Then they will determine where the sites are, voted on by the five leagues,” Balangitao explained. “Say they get a bye, then of course they would be in the semis and I’m guessing the semis would probably be held on Oahu.”
Before a decision is made, however, there is always a league who says: “We wouldn’t mind hosting and everybody (on the committee) votes hey or nay.”
Balangitao said leagues do not rotate as official hosts like they do when determining tournament sites in other sports.
“It’s up to the seeding committee and they look for the best sites and of course where they can make the most money,” Balangitao said. “Its nice that Lahainaluna has a new stadium and all, but this year might be tough because they haven’t played a game there yet and it might not be ready. They can’t announce that there is going to be a game there and the stadium isn’t ready.”
Balangitao also noted the monetary penalties teams are subjected to for airline changes.
“The airlines don’t help out the HHSAA any as far as reservations are concern, they treat the schools like anybody else and if you cancel you have to pay.”
The other factor is the traveling team’s overnight accommodations.
“Most teams that come over will come over the day before and leave after the game to save money, and for them to have to go all the way to Lahaina will be tough. I’m not saying that it’s out of the question, but the selling point might be tough.”
Two years ago the Lunas loss the state championship to Iolani, 36-33, and received a hero’s welcome from their loyal fans when they returned to the West Side. That year the team travelled to Oahu on consecutive weekends to play at Aloha Stadium, an exercise Watson welcomed at the time.
“I really thought that was a good thing because it took the jitters out of the kids. When you have kids who have never played in Aloha Stadium, you have the big-awe factor. I thought it was good that they did it that way, and it was a big thing for us.”
The Lunas, who will be appearing in their 10th tournament in 12 years next month, had their best postseason result in the semifinals that year, routing Nanakuli 28-0.