In the early 1980s, a gifted 5-foot-3 guard from Kohala High School thrilled Hawaii basketball fans with her outstanding ballhandling and scoring exploits, putting up 20- and 30-point games on a regular basis.
As a senior, she led the Cowgirls to a fifth-place finish in the girls basketball state tournament on Oahu. In three games, she scored a tournament record 85 points — 27.1 ppg — and was named the event’s most outstanding player.
That talented shooting guard, Lynette Liu, was one of the first Big Island Interscholastic Federation girls to go on and play Division I basketball. She played four years (1982-85) under then coach Vince Goo at the University of Hawaii and enjoyed a successful career.
Inspired by her success, Goo continued to recruit Big Island talent. Waiakea’s Jen Kaeo and Kalei Namohala as well as Hilo’s Kaui Wakita followed Liu’s path to Division I hoops. Each started and made an impact with the Rainbow Wahine.
Over the years, there have been other former BIIF stars who went on to play Division I basketball — including Honokaa’s Kahea Schuckert (Oregon State), Sissy Gambol (UNLV) and Keisha Kanekoa (Hawaii); Konawaena’s Nancy Hoist (Western Kentucky) and Hilo’s/Punahou’s Onaona Miller (Yale). There have also been several other ex-Big Island standouts who competed at the Division I, Division III, NAIA and junior college levels.
But the dream to play at the Division I level for girls has lived on for years. And with the skills and physical talent of more younger players improving at a faster rate than in the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s, we may see more ex-BIIF players with the ability to play Division I basketball.
This year has been extremely promising with former Konawaena stars Lia Galdeira and Dawnyelle Awa starting at Washington State, and Hilo’s Vicky Tagalicod, Kamehameha’s/Waiakea’s Kanisha Bello and Ka’u’s Pua Kailiawa contributing to the revitalized Rainbow Wahine program under first-year coach Laura Beeman.
Galdeira, a 5-9 shooting guard, has taken her game to a new level with the improving Cougars. Last week, she was named to the Pac-12 Conference’s All-Pac 12, All-Defensive and All-Freshman teams. This season, she led Washington State in scoring (14.8 points per game), rebounding (5.3 rebounds per game) and steals (49). She was third in assists.
Incredibly, she was the country’s highest-scoring Division I freshman.
No Big Island girl has ever received such honors in a competitive Division I conference. And with three more years to get better, anything seems possible for the athletic Galdeira.
Former Waiakea standout Shelley Nakasone, who played junior college basketball in Southern California in the early 1980s, believes Galdeira may be the first Hawaii player to make it to the WNBA.
And what does Nakasone know?
Well, she’s been a WNBA official and a highly respected Division I referee for many years, having worked in the Pac-12 and some of the other top conferences in the country.
Nakasone, who lives in Long Beach, Calif., knows talent, and maybe Galdeira will eventually make the big jump from college to the WNBA.
Awa, a 5-8 point guard, came off the bench for the Cougars earlier in the year. But her high basketball IQ and on-court skills earned her a starting spot late into the season.
With Galdeira and Awa in the backcourt for three more years, things should definitely continue to get better in Pullman, Wash., as the Cougars look to rise in the Pac-12 standings.
The future also looks bright for BIIF girls basketball players. This past year, Konawaena and Hilo finished second and third, respectively, in the Hawaii High School Athletic Association Division I state tournament. Both the Wildcats and Vikings had young teams and may be state title contenders next year.
In the HHSAA Division II state tournament, Kamehameha-Hawaii edged rival Honokaa in an all-BIIF state tournament final. Both the Warriors and Dragons had young teams and might be state title contenders next season, although Kamehameha is moving up to compete at the Division I level.
There are some BIIF girls out there with the potential to play at the right Division I college program, depending on how they develop on the court and academically. But even if they don’t get the chance to compete at the Division I level, there are still a lot of opportunities to play at the Division II, Division III, NAIA and JC levels.
Still, the dream to play Division I basketball lives on — thanks to Liu and the past BIIF stars who made it a reality as well as today’s young talent that keeps the fire burning inside.