It’s not easy living up to championship expectations, but that’s exactly what senior Courtney Kaupu and her teammates did this past season.
Kaupu, a 5-foot-10 forward, led the Wildcats to the Big Island Interscholastic Federation Division I title — and they did it without their cornerstones, Lia Galdeira and Dawnyelle Awa, who fueled four straight league titles and three state crowns. Galdeira and Awa played this year at Washington State.
Kaupu and fellow senior starter Hokulani Liftee led the way this time around, providing experienced leadership and consistent all-around play to lead the Wildcats to an undefeated record in the BIIF and a battle against Kamehameha-Oahu in the state final in Honolulu.
Konawaena fell 45-39 in overtime to the private-school Warriors in the state championship contest at Blaisdell Arena. But the Wildcats far exceeded many of their fans’ expectations in almost pulling out the state crown in a wild final game. With another made field goal or free throw, or a break in regulation, Konawaena was within an eyelash of claiming its fourth state title in five years.
Despite the difficult finish on Oahu, the Wildcats stood tall all season long and only dropped two games. In the BIIF’s West Division, coach Bobbie Awa’s team finished unbeaten and then went on to run past East Division top-seed Hilo 54-30 in the league title game.
Kaupu was a difference-maker all season and got strong support from Liftee, a 5-5 senior point guard, as Konawaena proved to be the best Division I team on the Big Island.
For her performance during the league season, the league coaches voted Kaupu as the West Division’s Player of the Year.
“Courtney was a great leader for us — on and off the court, she pushed the girls,” Konawaena coach Bobbie Awa said. “Courtney and Hoku (Liftee) were the team captains and did a really good job, especially since we had such a young team.
“As seniors, they also realized Chanelle (Molina) was our scorer this year and they gave up a lot of their shots to get her the ball.”
Awa said she could count on Kaupu every night for her leadership, rebounding, defense and scoring.
“Courtney had a really good year,” the Wildcats coach said.
Kaupu is joined on the all-West Division first team by the Wildcats’ Liftee and superfreshman Molina, Kohala’s Sheana Cazimero and Honokaa’s Hunter Liftee.
Konawaena’s Liftee was a super-charged point guard who pushed the Wildcats’ transition game and could just as easily set up the offense or score in the team’s disciplined halfcourt sets. But it was her leadership from the point and bulldog defense that helped spearhead the Wildcats’ overall success.
Molina, a 5-6 guard with extreme quickness, was one of the top freshmen in the state. She was an explosive scorer, able to attack the basket and score on layups or floaters as well as drain a 3-pointer. She also fit well into Konawaena’s high intensity defensive sets and helped make the Wildcats a difficult matchup for opposing teams. In the state tournament, she terrorized Konawaena foes with her keen ability to penetrate a defense and score almost at will.
Cazimero, a 5-7 senior, was a solid all-around player for the Cowgirls. She could score in a variety of ways and used her athletic talent to play good defense and outrebound taller opponents.
Hunter Liftee, a 5-8 junior, was one of the state’s better post players, able to score inside 12 feet or pass out of the double-team, and also provided Honokaa with strong rebounding and defense.
“Hunter was a dominant force inside and could score any time we got her the ball,” Dragons head coach James Lukzen said. “She also played good defense and was a very good rebounder.”
Honokaa’s Kizzah Maltezo heads the all-West Division second team and is joined by teammates Keana Kaohimauna and Shayla Ignacio, Konawaena’s Mercedes “Ihi” Victor and Hawaii Prep’s Tiana Bertelmann-Tabac.
Maltezo is a promising 5-1 freshman guard who provided the Dragons with intense defense, solid ballhanding and spark-plug scoring; Kaohimauna, a 5-7 senior guard who gave Honokaa potent perimeter shooting and hustling defense; Igancio, a 5-3 sophomore who provided the Dragons with consistent scoring and defense; Victor, a multitalented 5-8 freshman forward who played a key role in the Wildcats’ success this season; and Bertelmann-Tabac, a 5-8 junior who was Ka Makani’s most consistent player with her all-around game.
Honokaa’s Lukzen was named the West Hawaii’s Coach of the Year. He guided the Dragons to the BIIF Division II title game against defending champion Kamehameha-Hawaii and earned a state-tournament berth. The Dragons then advanced to the state Division II finale before falling to BIIF rival Kamehameha again.
Lukzen credited his close-knit staff for helping build the Dragons into state Division II title contenders. The assistants include Kevin Yamasaki, Alan Kaohimaunu, Janella Pascua and Keala Freitas.
“Kevin and Alan have developed a lot of the age group players moving up to high school,” Lukzen said. “They do a great job with the girls and have put together a strong feeder program. They had really strong 11-12 and 13-14 teams this past year, and that talent is only going to help us when the girls move up.
“Overall, I’m really pleased with how our staff has worked together to make us a quality program.”