Back in the golden days, when no one knew what an iPad was, the Kohala girls basketball team was a force in the state.
In the inaugural year of the Hawaii High School Athletic Association girls state tournament in 1977, the Cowgirls lost two straight games in the eight-team field. The next season, they made a nice mini-run, winning a first-round game against Kapaa before falling to Kalaheo in the semifinals, and to Waipahu for third place.
Then in 1979, Waiakea started to monopolize the Big Island Interscholastic Federation’s spot to the state tourney, advancing 12 out of the next 13 years. The Warriors captured states in 1985 and ’86, powered by future Rainbow Wahine standouts Kalei Namohala and Jenny Kaeo.
The only interruption was 1991, Kohala’s last BIIF championship and third overall with the back-to-back titles in 1977 and ’78.
The state tournament, still an eight-team field, was held on the Big Island in 1991, when BIIF champion Hilo, Honokaa and Kohala represented the league. The Cowgirls defeated the Dragons 60-50 for the consolation title.
Kohala suffered more than a two-decade drought, returning to the states last season, sparked by Sheana Cazimero’s scoring firepower. The senior point guard was later named to the All-BIIF West first team.
That 2013 magical season for the BIIF will be best remembered for Kamehameha and Honokaa, under respective coaches Garrett Arima and James Lukzen, finishing as the state champion and runner-up.
The Warriors not only repeated but also extended its string of BIIF titles. They’ve won the last eight, a run of dominance in the 10-year history of statewide classification. Kamehameha is also collecting state banners, too, winning in 2005 and ’07.
But the Dragons, especially with the addition of Hawaii Prep transfer Chancis Fernandez, are considered the league’s Division II title favorite; Honokaa smashed Kamehameha 59-31 in a preseason game, with Fernandez going off for 33 points.
“It should be good this year. Everyone should be equal, except Honokaa and Kamehameha,” first-year Kohala coach Adam Harrison said. “Fernandez is solid under the boards. I saw that game at Honokaa. She’s hard to stop. Both teams have got some really good players, their defense is good and they’re solid all-around. The fight is going to be for third.
“But you never know. Everybody gets a bad night. If a team plays good defense, maybe you get a lucky scoring shot. In this format, everybody plays everyone once. There’s no playing Honokaa twice or HPA twice. You get one crack and that’s it. You never know.”
That’s what makes the Division II race, especially for the league’s third spot to states, so unpredictable and fun.
Last season, Cazimero came up clutch in every must-win game. She scored a team-high 13 points and Kohala ousted Pahoa 49-44 in the first round of the BIIF playoffs. Then she scored a game-high 18 points, and the Cowgirls thumped HPA 44-23 for the league’s third berth, returning Kohala to states for the first time since 1991.
The Cowgirls can no longer turn to Cazimero, who has graduated. But four starters are back: senior Hauoli Sproat-Lancaster, a 5-foot, 9-inch center; sophomore Naai Solomon-Lewis, a 5-foot-9 forward; sophomore Tezrah Antonio, 5-foot-4 guard; and Mohala Kaholoaa-Kumukoa, 5-foot-4 guard.
Briana Harrison, a 5-foot-9 sophomore forward and the coach’s daughter, is the other starter. She saw significant playing time for Kohala, a small school known for its multi-sport athletes.
Kaholoaa-Kumukoa, at setter, and Solomon-Lewis, at middle blocker, received All-BIIF volleyball honorable mention. As a freshman, Harrison was a part of Kohala’s softball team, which made it to states for the fourth year in a row; she was honorable mention as an outfielder.
“The team is all right. We’ve got a lot to work on,” the Cowgirls coach said. “Basically, we’re going back to old school, teaching them more on defense. Maybe a little more pressing, man-to-man, basically just zone. Other than that, they have talent.
“I know they can shoot. We’ve got no problems with scoring. That’s basically why we’re working on defense. Our top shooters are Tezrah, Briana and Naai, both inside and out. Tezrah and Briana can shoot 3-pointers and Naai is pretty much around the key. On offense, we’re looking to pass, cut, screen and roll, and work the ball around.”