Crusaders Remain Atop Hawaii Basketball


Connor McIntosh, Staff Writer

The Crusaders put their name in the history books once again as they took down the Campbell Sabers to win their second straight state title.  Although,  as with every successful team, the Crusaders had to go through trials and tribulations in order to get where they wanted to be.

Many state champion teams have a number of returning players from the previous year.   That wasn’t the case for this team.  Following the 2022 season, the team lost seven seniors, so a “remodel” of the squad took place.  “Pulling guys up from JV and plugging in all kinds of different guys, they needed to establish and figure out what their roles were,” explained  Dan Hale, the Crusader’s Varsity Basketball Head Coach   

What made this year’s group different from last years was that this year’s team was much younger.  The roster this season was composed of four freshmen, four sophomores, three juniors, and only one senior.  With such a young team, maybe there wasn’t the expectation of an ILH championship, let alone a state championship.  

“This year teams didn’t really have expectations of us making it anywhere, especially to even make it to the state tournament,” explained junior center Jordan Posiulai.  “I think many people correlate youth with lack of experience and effort.  We understood that everyone saw us that way and decided to bond closer together because of the doubt.”  

The building blocks of this season seemed to take place a month before conference play.  From December 8 to December 10, the young squad participated in a preseason tournament in Kauai.  “We really clicked during our Kauai trip,” said Posiulai.

 “When we went to Kauai,” added Coach Dan, “every single guy said the same thing – they were committed to winning a state championship.”  This appeared to mark the beginning of what would be an exciting season for this up and coming team.  

Conference play for the Crusaders took place throughout January; however,   unlike the previous season,there were no limits to the number of  fans allowed to watch the games.  

”The impact of our fans and especially our brothers was very huge for us,” shared sophomore Pupualii “Pupu” Sepulona.  “They brought so much energy and hype to every game we had and I think that without our 6th man(STL fans), it wouldn’t have been the same.”  

The Crusaders finished conference play 9-4 and won the ILH Championship for the second year in a row!  “I was really happy to win the ILH again.” beamed Posiulai.

However, the job wasn’t done yet.  The Crusaders still had a chance to etch their name into history by winning another state championship.  For the second year in a row the team was seeded number one in the state tournament.  The state tournament was a five day span, from February 6-10.  At this point of the season the margin for error is low.  Any team can beat any team.

The teams first opponent in the state tournament was the Kailua Surfriders.  The Surfriders finished 3rd place in the OIA(Oahu Interscholastic Association) and were looking to dethrone the defending state champs.  It was a close one, but the Crusaders pulled it off in the end with a 51-48 victory.  

Their next opponent, the Moanalua Na Menehune, was a mature team with nine juniors and seven seniors.  The Crusaders battled and defeated Moanalua (47-34), advancing them to the state championship game and the opportunity to repeat as state champions. 

Their opponent in the state championship game was none other than the number two seed in the state tournament and OIA Champions, the Campbell Sabers (12-1).  Like Moanalua, this Campbell team was mature, with seven juniors and seven seniors.  

The game was neck-and-neck and at the end of the third quarter, the score was tied, 32-32.  The game came down to nearly the last possession as the Crusaders, who were up 41-39, forced a Saber turnover with 0.4 seconds left in the game to seal the victory.  It was over and the storybook season finally came to an end.  The Crusaders defeated the Sabers 41-39, making them state champions for the second year in a row.  

“It was just a very exciting season,” said Coach Hale.  “It was just an exciting group of guys to coach.  They just never gave up.  It didn’t matter what the situation was.  They always listened and bought into what coaches were telling them and that made it exciting.”