This page contains photos and video from the 44th AAU Girls Junior National Championship Tournament, as provided by parents and family. Videos are high resolution so please allow time for your computer to buffer; you may also have to "allow blocked content", depending on your computer's settings.
Everyone traveling in our group made it to Honolulu International Airport (HNL) at the appointed time and United Airlines' group check-in was efficient and quick. That morning was sweltering so the TSA line seemed interminable but we had allotted sufficient time, so those of us unfortunate enough to not be granted pre-check just sweated through it. Our flights from Honolulu to San Francisco, then San Francisco to Orlando were on schedule and uneventful. We were thankful that, when we asked, a kind gentleman was willing to switch seats with Nai'a, who joined us in San Francisco, so she was able to sit among our group instead of sitting with strangers. Most among our group were able to doze during the 10 hours we spent in the air so were excited to arrive at Orlando International Airport (MCO). The Orlando airport is well laid out so it was just a short walk to our team vans where everyone piled in with their luggage instead of having to wait for the drivers to go pick up the vans before returning for waiting passengers and luggage, like at other airports. Then we were off to our hotel, the Grove Resort in Winter Garden, near the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex and Disney's Animal Kingdom. The girls had been told that the Grove was selected because it had a water park as part of its property so they were disappointed to see that the water park was just in its early stages of construction and nowhere near ready for use. There was lots of water surrounding the hotel but an alligator was spotted swimming in the lake, giving meaning to the warning sign. At least it didn't seem as large as those we would later see in Safari Land.
The next day, we went to check-in for the tournament at the Orange County Convention Center, a much nicer OCCC than our OCCC back home in Kalihi, with no fences or barbed wire! Our Black Team then practiced on the court that they had, weeks before leaving home, made arrangements to use. After a spirited practice and going to the Shake Shack for lunch, the Black Team stopped by the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex to familiarize themselves with where they would play their first match the next day.
The Black Team's room quickly became the hub of all Black Team activities thanks to their wonderful chaperones, Tracy and Lori. Rather than eat at restaurants, on most days both before and after playing, the Black Team parents pitched in to prepare meals in the Black Team room, promoting a camaraderie and feeling of ohana never before experienced. The players on the Black Team became a true TEAM and that helped them to overcome the inexperience of some of them and meld their disparate backgrounds into a cohesive unit. Huikahi's younger, less experienced Black Team was entered into the 16U Classic Division and, despite their inexperience causing inconsistency, they competed hard and well, earning much respect from their mostly taller opponents with opponents' parents and coaches telling our parents and coaches how impressed they were by our Black Team. Their good sportsmanship even earned them thumbs-up and applause from the referees for their forthrightness in calling their touches.
The Black Team placed third in their first day's Pool 14, missing second place by just two points. Nevertheless, their first day's finish and the close, competitive nature of their matches was good enough to keep them in Group 1 for the second day. But that terrific all-out effort on day one took its toll on day two when the Black faced even stronger teams in Pool 19. Their fourth place pool finish on day two finally dropped the Black out of Group 1 into Group 2 for their third day's Pool 17. Day three was marred by Kiana spraining her ankle and the referees absolutely blowing a touch by the opponents to give them match point during overtime play of a very closely contested match despite the linesperson clearly indicating a touch off the block. The opposing coach later apologized, explaining that his player acknowledged her touch to him but did not call it as he coached his players to do. Our girls rallied around Kiana and overcame both the injury and the bad calls to finish the day strong and earn their way into the Emerald Division Championships. At the end of day three the Team had settled into the substitution pattern resulting from Kiana's injury and they were determined to give it their all on day four. On day four our Black Team literally shed blood, sweat, and caused opponents' tears to flow. They faced the two teams with the best records coming into the Emerald Division and defeated both of them! In the process, Victoria cut her finger and bled all over the court but, like a true warrior, kept playing until the whistle blew. While the blood on the court was cleaned up, we got her finger taped up and she played the rest of the day. The Black girls just PLAYED, no matter the obstacle, no matter the lineup; they just did what was asked of them as best they could. They showed that heart and hustle and our system of play can make the TEAM greater than the sum of its individual players. They played for the Team and each other, not for themselves. Despite their dimunitive size and relative inexperience, our Black Team earned a respectable finish. Well done!
A few weeks before we left for Orlando, Scott led the Red girls to morph into a white-uniformed team and he chose to depart from our system of play even though all of our previous Red teams had each season been among the top teams in the Aloha region when they played our system. In Orlando this white-clad team was entered in the 16U Open Division. On day 1 they played in Pool 5; on day 2 in Pool 15; on day 3 in Pool 16 with an additional crossover match. Their results for the first three days placed them in the Garnet Division with a finish that was unexpected just those few weeks before. They chose to go their own way and do their own thing in Orlando.
When not playing, our Black Team girls hit the outlet malls while some of their parents discovered great deals at the Dollar Store and the Target near the hotel. Following the completion of play, our Black ohana visited Universal Studios and Disney's Animal Kingdom, where the new Pandora Park had just opened. As would be expected, the lines were long but the wait was well worth it. The virtual ride "Avatar Flight of Passage" was totally awesome and everyone agreed it was the best ride ever, even better than the roller coasters. Too bad a few of our Black ohana had to fly out on a tame airplane before we went to Pandora to ride a wild ikran/banshee!
Flying on an ikran/banshee in Pandora was a fitting highlight end to our visit to Orlando, for the next morning we were up bright and early for our earthly flight aboard an airplane out of MCO to Denver then back to HNL. We endured our first travel glitch in Denver with our connecting flight being delayed for five hours; United's apology for the delay included meal vouchers and a choice of miles or a discount on a future flight. We all made it safely home, and we wish Huikahi girls the same success with their school teams that they had with us. Mahalo and Aloha!