Heartbreaking. Agonizing. Tragic.
Those are the words used by most observers when describing Konawaena’s 45-39 overtime loss to Kamehameha-Kapalama in the girls basketball state championship game last season.
In the game, Konawaena allowed a 25-0 second-half run by the Warriors after the Wildcats held a lead as big as 20 points in the third quarter and had a sixth championship banner in sight.
“In the first half, even the third quarter, it was no contest,” head coach Bobbie Awa said. “We had that game put away, but Kamehameha got momentum and kept it going.”
Despite the painful loss, the game served as a lesson for two young Wildcats upon whom Awa will now rely to carry her young team — sophomores Chanelle Molina and Mercedes “Ihi” Victor.
“Chanelle and Ihi are both stronger players from that game,” Awa said. “They both came out and did a lot of offseason training. They don’t want that feeling again.”
The Wildcats graduated five seniors, including West Hawaii BIIF Player of the Year Courtney Kaupu.
Besides Molina and Victor — starters last season — the team will rely on a group of eager, untried players, including three freshmen and just two seniors.
“I think it would be shocking for a lot of people if we got back to that stage,” Awa said. “I know we don’t have a lot of experience on our team, but our experienced girls are very good and I am confident they can carry the load.”
Molina — who has already been offered a scholarship by the University of Hawaii — will serve as the primary ball-handler and leader, a role she is familiar with. She was also a key player on the Wildcats state championship volleyball team this year.
“Communication is something I carried over from the volleyball season,” Molina said. “I’m better at talking with my teammates and telling them where to go. It’s an honor to be seen as a leader, but I need to learn how to fully use it.”
Awa, who has seen countless talented players come through her program, is confident Molina has the ability to take the team back to the promise land.
“She is still learning herself,” Awa said. “Chanelle is really open to learning though, so that’s a good thing. I have no problem giving her the reins and leading us to the state championship.”
Two other Wildcats in the starting lineup are senior Zoe Acdal and newcomer Jasmine Perea. Senior forward Syleesia Jose and Chanelle’s younger sister Celena Molina are also expected to see significant minutes.
“I have always felt with our girls that if we give them a role and they know what they are supposed to do, we will be fine,” Awa said. “If they try to do more than they are capable of doing, we get in trouble.”
Perea, who transferred from Alaska earlier in the school year, adds height and power to the roster. She will play an integral role for the Wildcats in the post and rebounding.
“We didn’t expect Jasmine at all but we are very fortunate to have her,” Awa said. “I think she is a little hesitant right now and still learning the system, so she is battling with what comes natural to her. She knows how to play with the ball in her hands and will only get better as the season progresses.”
The Wildcats have already faced tough tests this season on the way to a 9-3 record. The losses include a tight 47-45 battle with Kamehameha-Kapalama in a rematch of the state title game, a 49-41 loss to Mililani on Maui and a rare home loss, 50-41, to a sharp-shooting Lahainaluna team Friday.
Preseason action ended Saturday, and the BIIF is now firmly in the sights of the Wildcats. The team’s veteran head coach knows they will have their hands full with the BIIF’s best.
“I know we are going to have some tough games this year, but that’s all I’m going to say,” Awa said. “To me basketball is so simple and I’ve always taught my teams that basketball is all mental. If they can overcome little mistakes, play with confidence and be headstrong we will be fine.”