BIIF volleyball preview: Family ties hold Konawaena together


Finally, it’s a full family reunion for the Molina and Ventura sisters on the Konawaena girls volleyball team.

When the Big Island Interscholastic Federation season starts Aug. 26, the Wildcats’ roster will be filled with players with familiar last names.

There’s junior outside hitter Chanelle Molina, an All-BIIF first-team pick last season, and her sister Celena, a sophomore setter and league second-team selection, who made the honor squad at right-side hitter.

Their youngest sister Cherilyn will be a defensive specialist, and will be joined by another freshman in McKayla Ventura, whose sister is McKenna, a junior and an All-BIIF second-team middle last season.

Chanelle and Celena Molina and McKenna Ventura are fundamentally sound defenders, and Cherilyn and McKayla will add depth to the back-row passing rotation.

“I love it, playing with my sisters,” Chanelle said. “Cherilyn is really quick and will help us in passing. I just try to be a good role model.”

The talent doesn’t stop there. Ihi Victor, a 5-foot, 9-inch junior, received All-BIIF honorable mention at middle blocker. Like the Molina sisters, the lanky Victor is a member of coach Bobbie Awa’s Konawaena girls basketball team.

Also, sophomore Haena Keawekane will take over at libero after being a defensive specialist last year. Konawaena coach Ainsley Keawekane’s daughter and the Molina and Ventura siblings are all volleyball sisters; they’re longtime members of their coach’s Hoopa club team.

Adding to the family atmosphere are assistant coaches Hamana and Lovey Ventura. They not only help on the court, but provide valuable high-tech iPad video that can pinpoint proper fundamentals through frame sequences.

Last season, the Wildcats won the Hawaii High School Athletic Association Division II state championship — the school’s first — but fell short for the BIIF title.

Hawaii Preparatory Academy beat Konawaena for the league crown, but fell in four sets to the Wildcats for the state title.

Chanelle Molina had 28 kills and 20 digs while HPA’s Gabbie Ewing posted 22 kills and 25 digs in the state final.

Konawaena has been the league runner-up the last three seasons, losing to Ka‘u in 2012 and to HPA in ’11. The Wildcats last won back-to-back crowns in 1997 and ’98.

While the Wildcats added to their supply of athleticism and ball-control with the freshmen Molina and Ventura sisters, coach Sharon Peterson’s Ka Makani lineup has big shoes and lots of holes to fill.

Tiana Reynolds, an All-BIIF first team outside hitter, is playing college ball at Centralia (Wash.) College while her sister Tehane Reynolds, a senior first-team setter, transferred to Honokaa.

Also lost to graduation were setter Carina Verhulsdonk and Kawena Lim-Samura, a pair of All-BIIF second-team picks, and middle Seychelle Francis, who received honorable mention.

The depth depletion doesn’t stop there. HPA said goodbye to standouts Tiana Bertelmann-Tabac, a back-row defender; Asia Kaden, a front-row presence; and Morgan Monahan, a deadly server.

Ewing, a junior outside hitter, returns. She’s the reigning BIIF Division II player of the year. She was also on Hoopa and played at the Junior Nationals.

“Last year we didn’t win BIIFs, but got the state title,” Konawaena coach Keawekane said. “Our first goal is to get the BIIF title. Sharon is a good coach. Give her time, and they’ll be all right. Five weeks from now, everyone will be five weeks better.”

Still for any BIIF volleyball diehard it’s hard not to be impressed with the Konawaena Spike Machine, currently on display at the second annual Waiakea Invitational, which concludes Saturday.

Chanelle and Celena were the same height last year, about 5 feet, 6 inches. With a more slender build than her older sister, Celena is a half-inch taller at 5 feet, 7 ½ inches, and growing her game by leaps and bounds.

“We’re definitely athletic,” said Keawekane, who took Hoopa to the USA Volleyball Junior National Championships in Minnesota during the summer. “The biggest improvement was from Celena. San Jose State was interested in her. It was our first trip and we were seeded 48th and last, but we finished 34th.

“Celena got better with everything. She’s smarter and it’s really showing up in her play. Chanelle brings a leadership quality and keeps the girls together as one. McKenna’s an experienced middle, and her blocking and passing will help us this year.”

Alissa Nahale-Bianco and Taiana Tolleson, a pair of juniors and Wildcat soccer players, will be in the mix at the outside hitting spots. Tolleson, a goalie and 5-11 right-side hitter, contributes to the roofing department, especially against the opposition’s left-side No. 1 hitter.

Asked what the Molina and Ventura sisters have in common, Keawekane repeated Chanelle’s life motto.

“They don’t like to lose,” he said. “Chanelle is the one who really motivates everyone, who pushes them to give their all, and give their best. The older sisters are leading the younger ones to be successful.”

The sister connection doesn’t just extend to the Molina/Ventura Five, but the entire Wildcat roster as well.

“I like it because we have a connection, but we treat everyone like family,” Celena Molina said.