Wildcats win fifth straight Division I title
Konawaena’s coaching staff entered Kealakehe High sporting black sweatshirts that carried the team’s slogan of the season: Be known.
The Wildcats chose that motto, senior Courtney Kaupu said, because “everybody” viewed the girls basketball team that won the past two Hawaii High School Athletic Association Division I state titles as the “two-man show” of current Washington State players Lia Galdeira and Dawnyelle Awa.
On Saturday, Konawaena earned an all-too-familiar title that goes hand-in-hand with being known: BIIF Division I champion.
Chanelle Molina had 22 points, five assists and seven steals, and Kaupu added 14 points as Konawaena beat Hilo 54-30 to cap its fifth consecutive undefeated Division I season and claim its 10th BIIF title in the past 12 years.
“Everybody was doubting us because we didn’t have Lia and Dawnyelle anymore,” Kaupu said of the team’s slogan. “So it’s kind of like a statement, that maybe we can do it without them.”
The Wildcats (10-0) will try to build upon their stellar season at the HHSAA state tournament, which begins Tuesday and runs through Friday on Oahu. Konawaena, which has a first-round bye, will face either Mililani — a team that knocked off the Wildcats in a preseason game on Maui — or Kaiser in a state quarterfinal scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday at McKinley High.
The Vikings (11-1), who got 10 points from junior Aliyah Pana on Saturday, will take on Roosevelt at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Radford High.
Konawaena quickly got the upper hand against Hilo in the BIIF final by feasting on 12 Viking turnovers in the first quarter, with Kaupu scoring six points during a 12-0 run that gave Konawaena a 16-3 lead with 43 seconds left in the period.
The Wildcats created some of those turnovers on their own, with Molina and senior guard Hoku Liftee getting into the passing lanes, but the Vikings also hurt themselves by taking quick shots.
“It was a lot of nervousness because we have a young team,” Hilo coach Ben Pana said. “We had a lot of impatience.”
The Vikings settled down in the second quarter, with freshman guard Sharlei Graham-Bernisto and Pana hitting 3-pointers during an 11-0 spurt that made it 20-15.
However, the Wildcats responded with a 7-0 run that included five points from Molina — a 3-pointer and a putback that gave Konawaena a 27-15 advantage with 55 seconds remaining in the first half.
The Vikings got no closer than eight points the rest of the way, with the Wildcats delivering a knockout punch late in the third quarter. Leading 31-19, Konawaena embarked on a 13-4 run that carried over into the fourth quarter, with Melissa Simon capping the spurt with the first of her two 3-pointers to give the Wildcats a comfortable 44-23 lead with 5:05 left.
Molina, showing the ability to slash to the basket, scored six points during the run.
Before the game, Molina said, the Konawaena coaching staff told her she often “hesitated” too much before taking shots.
“I think I did better with that,” she said.
Two of Konawaena’s best defenders, Kaupu and Liftee, sat for much of the third quarter with three and four fouls, respectively, prompting the Wildcats to use a 2-3 zone defense. However, the Vikings shot just 1-for-8 from the field in the period.
Regardless of what defensive principles Konawaena leaned on, the Wildcats flourished on the boards throughout the contest.
In the first half, they scored eight second-chance points. On the defensive glass, they didn’t give the Vikings any extra opportunities — something Konawaena coach Bobbie Awa viewed as critical when the team went with its zone defense.
Liftee pulled down 10 rebounds, and freshman Ihi Victor had five to go along with eight points.
“They crashed the boards really well,” Awa said.
Victor and Molina have made significant contributions as newcomers, but Awa credited the team’s senior class for molding the team.
“The girls are just so close, not just on the court, but off the court,” Awa said. “(We do well) as long as we have the leadership up on top.”
Hilo 4 13 4 9 — 30
Konawaena 16 11 8 19 — 54