It’s a title very few Big Island teams earned before the turn of the century.
In 2012, the Big Island Interscholastic Federation enjoyed a year it may never replicate, claiming an eye-popping six Hawaii High School Athletic Association state team titles.
The Konawaena and Kamehameha-Hawaii girls basketball teams; Waiakea’s baseball, boys air riflery and girls air riflery squads; and Honokaa’s boys soccer team all reached the mountaintop in their respective sports.
Of those six teams, the two that have made state championship game appearances a habit in the past decade topped West Hawaii’s top 10 stories list for the past calendar year.
1. Konawaena repeats girls
hoops state title,
Kamehameha breaks through
Konawaena’s girls basketball team rarely found itself in this position.
Other than a 47-30 win over Waiakea in the BIIF Division I championship game, the Wildcats had beaten all their BIIF opponents by 20 points or more during the 2011-12 season.
But on Feb. 10 at Honolulu’s Neal Blaisdell Arena, Konawaena suddenly sunk into a deep hole, and it couldn’t have come at a worse time: in the HHSAA Division I state championship game.
For the second consecutive season, the Wildcats responded to the challenge. And for the second straight season, they earned a big reward: a state title.
Trailing 26-15 to Iolani just before halftime, Konawaena stormed back to beat the Raiders 56-45 and win its fifth state title in nine years.
A year earlier, the Wildcats found themselves in a similar hole, trailing Punahou 7-2 in the first quarter before beating the Buffanblu 49-45 in the state championship game. On both occasions, Konawaena leaned on the tandem of Lia Galdeira and Dawnyelle Awa.
Against the Raiders, Galdeira collected 21 points, eight rebounds and five steals, while Awa had 12 points and six assists. With Konawaena leading 43-40 midway through the fourth quarter, Dawnyelle Awa, Makayla Awa, Hoku Liftee and Courtney Kaupu combined to make nine of 10 free throws to clinch the victory.
Dawnyelle Awa and Galdeira are now playing Division I basketball at Washington State. During their high school careers, they helped Konawaena win three state titles and compile a 110-8 overall record. The Wildcats ran off 48 consecutive BIIF regular-season wins during the four-year stretch.
“If Kona isn’t a dynasty, I don’t know what a dynasty is,’’ Konawaena coach Bobbie Awa told West Hawaii Today after the Wildcats beat the Raiders.
Meanwhile, Kamehameha erased a boatload of heartbreaking memories in the Division II tournament.
In 2009, the Warriors took a 39-33 lead into the fourth quarter of its state championship against Molokai. The Farmers, behind current University of Hawaii player Kalei Adolpho, rallied to beat Kamehameha 45-42.
Two years later, the Warriors led Radford 40-39 with 17 seconds remaining in the state final. But the Rams’ Korie Johnson hit a 4-footer with 7 seconds left to put Radford up for good.
Kamehameha took drama out of the equation in 2012, bolting out to a 22-5 lead over Kauai after just one quarter and cruising to a 57-36 win.
Senior Chelsea Poe, who experienced both of the Warriors’ gutwrenching state final losses, started smiling from ear to ear as the final seconds ticked off the clock, and she didn’t stop smiling throughout the awards ceremony.
“I worked so hard since my freshman year to win a state title,’’ Poe told West Hawaii Today after the game. “Each of the past two attempts was disappointing for me, but now I’ve been rewarded for not giving up.” Poe scored 14 points, while sister Casey Poe earned Most Outstanding Player tournament honors after tallying a game-high 16 points.
2. Honokaa wins
back-to-back Division II
boys soccer state titles
Nino Quijano admitted his team was feeling a little “antsy’’ on Feb. 18 at Oahu’s Waipio Peninsula Soccer Complex.
A Honokaa boys soccer team that pumped in goals with regularity thanks to a strong ball-control attack had nothing to show for yet another stellar offensive performance in the contest that mattered the most to the Dragons: the HHSAA Division II state championship match.
But on a day the defense also played at a high level, a Honokaa team that outshot Kapaa 19-5 and put 19 throw-ins into the Warriors’ penalty box needed just one goal, and the Dragons finally got it in the 73rd minute.
A throw-in by Dylan Shiraki trickled through the box and appeared headed out of bounds. But Dragons defender Josh Tobias flicked the ball over his head and kept it in play. Sophomore Joel Shoemaker-Hassey then hit a volley into the box to a waiting Quijano, who let loose a 10-yard shot that deflected off a Kapaa defender and into the net for the match’s lone goal as Honokaa beat Kapaa 1-0 to win its second straight state title and cap a perfect 19-0 regular season.
Everything the Dragons accomplished during the 2011-12 season screamed domination.
Honokaa earned two wins via forfeit. In the other 17, the Dragons outscored their opponents by a combined 79-4.
Thanks in large part to the possession skills of midfielders Robert Connors and Chayce Moniz, Honokaa spent the better part of matches operating in front of the opponent’s goal, generating between 20 and 30 scoring chances per match.
Justin Warren, now a junior for the Dragons, led the team with 14 goals, Moniz and Robert Connors each had 13, and Shiraki had 12.
Moniz, Connors, Shiraki and two other seniors — defender Alden Aguirre and goalkeeper Maikai Coelho — formed the nucleus of the Dragons’ 2011 state champion team.
But the emergence of Tony Connors and Tobias — he had missed his entire junior season because of a leg injury — made the team’s back line tough to penetrate for opposing forwards.
“They raised their game to another level,’’ Honokaa coach Maurice Miranda told West Hawaii Today after the Dragons’ title. “To go undefeated, it means you took your game somewhere.’’
3. HPA grad Max Unger
makes first Pro Bowl
The Unger family had already experienced quite the memorable holiday season.
Keith and Cynda Unger flew to Seattle to watch their son, Max, and the Seattle Seahawks play the San Francisco 49ers on Dec. 23 in a crucial NFC West clash at CenturyLink Field.
The Seahawks thrashed the 49ers 42-13, with Max Unger, a 2004 Hawaii Prep graduate, playing center for an offensive line that allowed Seattle to rack up 346 yards of total offense.
Two days later, the Ungers spent Christmas together, with Keith and Cynda also planning to take in the Seahawks’ 20-13 win over the St. Louis Rams on Dec. 30.
Then after the team’s practice on Dec. 26, Max Unger got arguably the best late Christmas present he’s ever received. Seattle coach Pete Carroll announced to the team that Unger and fellow lineman Russell Okung earned starting spots for the NFC in the Pro Bowl, which takes place Jan. 27 at Honolulu’s Aloha Stadium.
“It was pretty overwhelming,’’ the 26-year-old Unger told West Hawaii Today that evening.
No other Big Island high school player has ever played in a Pro Bowl or been drafted as high as the 6-foot-5, 306-pound Unger. In the 2009 NFL draft, Seattle took Unger, now in his fourth season with the Seahawks, with the 49th overall pick.
Unger became the first Hawaii-born Pro Bowl starter since Honolulu’s Olin Kreutz, a former Chicago Bear, made the last of his six consecutive Pro Bowl appearances in 2006.
4. Brostek, Wooching commit
to play football at Washington
It seems as if the University of Washington has established a football talent pipeline on the Big Island.
First, the Huskies landed 2005 HPA graduate Daniel Teo-Nesheim, who now plays for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Then Washington reeled in Hilo defensive lineman Semisi Tokolahi, who has logged playing time in each of his four seasons.
The Huskies doubled up in 2012, with HPA offensive lineman Shane Brostek and Kealakehe running back Psalm Wooching signing National Letters of Intent to play football at Washington on Jan. 31.
Brostek, the son of former NFL player and 1990 Washington alum Bern Brostek, earned first-team All-BIIF honors as an offensive lineman in each of his last three years at HPA.
Brostek (6-4, 300) displayed versatility, playing both center and offensive tackle, and helping lead Ka Makani to a BIIF Division II championship in 2009. That year, HPA beat Moanalua 17-14 in the first round of the HHSAA Division II state tournament, marking only the second time a BIIF team has won a state playoff game.
Wooching verbally committed to UCLA in the summer of 2011 before changing his mind over the following winter.
The 6-3, 210-pound back helped Kealakehe win back-to-back BIIF titles in 2010 and 2011.
During his senior year, he ran for 812 yards and 15 touchdowns after rushing for 989 yards the previous season.
5. Waiakea wins HHSAA
Division I baseball title
When the baseball season started in March, Waiakea set out to accomplish something only one other BIIF team — Hilo in 1985 — had done: win a state title.
History certainly wasn’t on the Warriors’ side, but the task at hand wasn’t daunting when considering the talent on the team. If the core of the team — Quintin Torres-Costa, Kean Wong and Korin Medeiros — could lead a Hilo all-star squad to a Senior League World Series title at the national level, a state championship wasn’t out of the question.
When speaking to West Hawaii Today for a season preview, first-year coach Kevin Yee didn’t make any bold guarantees when discussing state title aspirations. But he definitely liked his chances knowing the Warriors had what he called two of the state’s top five high school pitchers in Hawaii-bound senior Torres-Costa and Kodi Medeiros.
Yee’s pitching staff didn’t disappoint.
Torres-Costa and Kodi Medeiros combined on a no-hitter in the HHSAA state final on May 11 as Waiakea capped a 20-0 season with a 5-2 victory over Baldwin.
In the state final, Torres-Costa pitched six innings on one day’s rest, having thrown a six-hit shutout in a 5-0 state quarterfinal win over Castle on May 9.
In the semifinals, Kodi Medeiros threw a complete-game three-hitter in a 2-1 win over Pearl City, with Korin Medeiros coming through with a game-winning run-scoring single in the bottom of the seventh.
Torres-Costa was virtually unhittable during the 2012 season, going 7-0 with a minuscule 0.29 ERA. He allowed just 12 hits and two earned runs in 47 2/3 innings, striking out 58 and walking only 12.
Meanwhile, Kodi Medeiros, now a junior who has verbally committed to play baseball for Hawaii, went 4-0 with a 1.87 ERA. In 27 innings, he struck out 39 and walked 14.
The Warriors weren’t too shabby at the plate, with five players hitting .375 or better.
Kean Wong, a senior who has also committed to play for UH, hit .404 with two home runs and 13 RBIs. Kodi (.386) and Korin Medeiros (.400) each drove in 18 runs, while Torres-Costa and Reyn Kihara hit .446 and .375, respectively.
6. Konawaena’s Andrade
commits to play
football at Hawaii
He commanded double- and triple-teams and yet somehow found a way to get to the quarterback with regularity.
UH, desperately needing pass rushers, turned to Konawaena’s Mike Andrade, who verbally committed to play for the Warriors on Feb. 27.
Hawaii coach Norm Chow offered Andrade a full-ride scholarship over the phone when the Wildcat defensive lineman and Konawaena coach Cliff Walters sat in Walters’ vehicle near Konawaena’s Julian Yates Field.
For Andrade, the 2011 BIIF Division II Defensive Player of the Year, the offer gave him something we wanted all along: a chance to stay on the Hawaiian islands while continuing to play football.
“I never wanted to leave Hawaii, so I wanted to stay in Hawaii,’’ Andrade told West Hawaii Today on the day he gave his verbal commitment.
In the fall of 2011, Andrade helped Konawaena win its first BIIF Division II title in three years, amassing 86 tackles and 36 sacks. Six of those sacks came in the Wildcats’ 23-6 loss to Lahainaluna in the first round of the HHSAA Division II state playoffs.
Andrade redshirted this past season. Because of a rash of injuries on defensive line, Hawaii considered having Andrade dress to play against Nevada on Sept. 22 at Aloha Stadium. However, the Warriors opted to keep him off the field to preserve a year of eligibility.
7. (Tie) Konawaena football
team’s roller coaster season
They went toe-to-toe with five-time defending HHSAA Division II champion Iolani at Aloha Stadium in the nonconference opener for both teams on Aug. 11, falling 43-40 on a touchdown pass with less than two minutes remaining.
Returning a host of starters from a team that won its first BIIF football title in three years, the Konawaena Wildcats finished on the wrong end of the win-loss column, but they had visions of a Konawaena-Iolani rematch at Aloha Stadium with much more at stake: a state title.
And who could blame them. They had a balanced offense featuring a strong-armed quarterback in Lii Karratti, a big-play running back in John Kamoku and two sure-handed receivers in Domonic Morris and Kenan Gaspar. They had a defense that included relentless pass rushers (Chayne Bohol, Laimana Grace), stout linebackers (Mikey Rabara, Evyn Yamaguchi) and play-making defensive backs (Austin Denis, Ryan Torres-Torioka).
The Wildcats defeated their next six opponents by a combined score of 340-42. Repeating a BIIF title seemed inevitable, and a deep state playoff run appeared to be in the cards.
However, a few speed bumps challenged Konawaena, with adversity hitting the Wildcats in the mouth on several occasions.
Losing starting safety Denis to a season-ending knee injury in an 86-0 home win over Ka‘u was bad enough. On Sept. 27, the BIIF forced the Wildcats to forfeit three victories because the team used an ineligible player.
The news didn’t dash Konawaena’s hopes of repeating its BIIF title because the Wildcats forfeited just one league win, but it created a scenario it faced in the 2011 season after losing to Kamehameha in Week 3 of the regular season. The Wildcats’ forfeiture essentially demanded perfection the rest of the BIIF season.
Konawaena was up to the task — even though it had its share of close calls.
Two days after receiving the league’s penalty, Konawaena won the first-half BIIF Division II title by virtue of a 16-3 home win over Kamehameha. Locked in a defensive struggle against a Warrior team that defused the Wildcats’ passing attack, Konawaena didn’t seal its victory until Bubba Ellis-Noa returned a fumble for a touchdown late in the fourth quarter.
The Wildcats dodged another bullet on Oct. 26, surviving a spirited comeback by HPA to squeak out a 56-49 win.
The following week, behind Kamoku’s 231 rushing yards, Konawaena repeated its overall BIIF crown with a 32-28 road victory over the Warriors.
On Nov. 10, Konawaena appeared well on its way to winning its first HHSAA state playoff game, jumping out to a 23-6 halftime lead over Oahu Interscholastic Association runner-up Nanakuli. However, the last unexpected twist in Konawaena’s season was a cruel one for Wildcats fans as the Golden Hawks rode a furious second-half comeback to a 25-23 victory. A safety with 2 minutes, 30 seconds left capped the win.
7. Spencer Travalino wins
third straight BIIF tennis title
Having never used a tennis racket until his freshman year, Spencer Travalino proved to be a quick learner on the court.
On April 21, Travalino won his third consecutive BIIF title, beating Waiakea’s Isaiah Brilhante 6-2, 7-5 at Keauhou’s Holua Tennis Center.
“For the next three years in a row, to win it, that’s pretty cool,” Travalino told West Hawaii Today after claiming the last of his three crowns.
During his three-year run, Travalino proved he can handle pressure-packed situations.
Against Brilhante, he didn’t unravel despite Brilhante erasing five match points.
A year earlier, Travalino rallied from a 4-2 second-set deficit to beat Waiakea’s Kaito Mizutani 6-4, 6-4. In that second set, Travalino brushed away nine break points.
Travalino, Brilhante told West Hawaii Today last year, relishes getting into long rallies.
“He’s going to grind it out and wait until you make a mistake,” Brilhante said.
9. (Tie) Papalii returns
to Kealakehe, which wins
third straight Division I
In 2010, it appeared Saint Louis School had hired one of its own, Sam Papalii, to coach its football team. That opportunity never materialized for Papalii, who eventually returned to a place he and his wife, Candy, could always call home: the Big Island.
Then the man who coached Kealakehe to its first BIIF football championships in 2004 and 2005, picked up right where he left off when he started his second stint at the Waveriders’ head coach.
After Papalii stepped down at Kealakehe in 2005, the Waveriders went from a team that overpowered teams on the ground to one that lit up opposing secondaries through the air.
Last fall, Kealakehe continued using the spread offense that Gary Clark leaned on while coaching the Waveriders from 2007-10, and senior quarterback Jordan Cristobal averaged 157 passing yards over his first three games.
But Kealakehe also ran the ball out of its spread formation, particularly on misdirection plays with co-Offensive Player of the Year Lennox Jones, who amassed 1,120 rushing yards and 483 receiving yards.
Toward the end of the season, the Waveriders, operating with an offensive line that averaged 308 pounds per man, played the smashmouth football Papalii preached during his first stint as Kealakehe’s coach. Opponents could predict a specific Waveriders running play, but the line of Feke Sopoaga-Kioa, Tui Eli, Prince Samoa, Siosaia Kalavi and Giovanni Chanes-Rodriguez executed its blocks so well it didn’t matter.
On Nov. 3, Kealakehe defeated Hilo 40-22 for its third consecutive BIIF Division I football title in the resumption of a game originally scheduled on Oct. 27. The Waveriders ran for 360 yards in the contest, with Jones rushing for 159 yards and Cristobal scampering for 108.
David Fangupo, a 348-pound senior, emerged as a powerful fullback who consistently bulled over would-be tacklers. He finished with 538 yards.
Kealakehe’s strong running game carried over into the HHSAA state playoffs, where seven other Waverider teams had struggled to move the ball on the ground.
Playing against Oahu Interscholastic Association power Farrington at home in a first-round playoff game, Kealakehe churned out 202 yards, with Jones running for 140. However, the Governors’ 1-2 punch of Tyler Taumua (172 rushing yards) and Abraham Silva (144) proved too much for the Waveriders in a 34-25 loss.
9. Jason Alani wins
punt, pass and kick title
Young West Hawaii athletes are starting to become regulars at the NFL Punt, Pass & Kick National Finals.
On Jan. 14, Captain Cook’s Jason Alani Jr. won the boys age 8-9 division at the event with a total score of 277 feet, 4 inches to become the first male from Hawaii to claim a national PPK title.
Competing at the Baltimore Ravens’ practice facility in Owings Mills, Md., Alani, then 9 years old, set event records in two of the event’s three disciplines — the pass (108-9) and the place kick (100). Alani recorded a punt of 68-7.
Alani’s mother, Traci Kahananui, estimated her son’s total score being about 30 feet better than that of runner-up Nathan Cobb of St. Louis.
If anything, Alani’s place kick allowed him to pull away. His 100-foot effort was approximately 20 feet better than his average distance.
Athletes must advance through local, sectional and regional competitions, with the top four in each age group advancing to the national finals.
Alani followed in the footsteps of Kealakekua’s Jayla Medeiros, who in 2011 won the girls age 6-7 crown.
Competing in the girls 8-9 division last year, Medeiros placed fifth nationally, just missing out on a second straight trip to the finals. However, Medeiros has qualified for the 2013 national finals in the same age group, posting the nation’s best mark (241-2) in regional competition.
West Hawaii Today staff writers Joe Ferraro and Micah Lewter, and West Hawaii Today copy editor Brendan Shriane determined West Hawaii’s top 10 stories in a vote.