The run-and-gun Cowboys of Kohala have a history that goes back ages.
That history never included a state championship. A new banner will be hoisted into the rafters soon on the heels of Kohala’s thrilling 51-48 win over Roosevelt in the Division II final of the Snapple/HHSAA Boys Basketball State Championships. The Cowboys, led by first-year head coach Kihei Kapeliela, certainly paid the price.
“Oh man, this is overwhelming. Super excited for the boys. They totally deserve it,” said Kapeliela, who was an assistant for a dozen years under Don Fernandez. “I told the boys if you win the championship, we’ll take them to dinner wherever they want to go. We have a 10 o’clock reservation for 40. We want to cut the nets down and get there.”
While the Cowboys waited for the D-I final between Maryknoll and Kamehameha to conclude, Kapeliela could not believe the action on his phone.
“I have 100 text messages and 50 missed calls. They’re partying in Kohala right now. Illegal fireworks. We’re one big family. There’s nothing like home games at Kam Park,” he said.
They did it in a physical battle zone. Officials allowed hand-to-hand combat at times on both ends.
“We just had to fight through and be strong. They weren’t calling it both ways, so hey, stay physical, stay strong. We’ve got to block out down there. There were too many second-chance opportunities (by Roosevelt) that were killing us in the first half. We just couldn’t stretch the lead,” Kapeliela said.
Kohala’s relentless pressure and breakneck fast break was not what Roosevelt coach Steve Hathaway wanted his team to duplicate. Kohala raced to a 15-6 lead, Roosevelt came roaring back, and if not for two missed foul shots by Drake Watanabe, and later, a missed 3 in the final seconds, it could’ve been koa trophy time for the Rough Riders.
Instead, it was Kohala that was clutch. Molonai Emeliano, their 5-foot-11 rim protector, sank all four of his free throws in the final quarter. While the offense sputtered with multiple missed layups against Roosevelt’s fullcourt press, the Cowboys did not waver on defense.
“I felt for them. They felt like they let the team down, but they mades stops down the stretch. That’s the way it’s been all season long, winning close games with our defense,” Kapeliela said.
O’shen Cazimero finished with 23 points, but his defense was invaluable. The Cowboys have the smallest roster in D-II, but rebound in rugged fashion up and down the lineup. Roosevelt managed a minor edge on the boards, 37-34.
Primarily, though, Kapeliela promised that his team would stick to its blueprint. They Cowboys simply don’t stop running.
“It wasn’t really exhausting. Our team is known for being in shape,” Cazimero said. “We run about 10 suicides after every practice. Free-throw line, back, halfcourt, back, opposite free-throw line, back, fullcourt and back.”
Long before “small ball” was part of college and pro basketball, Kohala mastered it. Five runners. Five shooters. Five fullcourt defenders. Back in the day, players like Reeve Cazimero, O’shen’s father, and brothers Kalei and Keone Emeliano — fathers of Molonai and Moses — were key contributors to Kohala’s contending status in the 1990s. Kapeliela was a gunner himself during those ’90s for the black and gold.
Even this season, an 11-1 mark in BIIF regular-season play that included a win over then-No. 9 Waiakea, was bittersweet after a loss to Hawaii Prep in the D-II title game.
The Cowboys ousted third-seeded Kauai, 68-64, then overwhelmed OIA runner-up McKinley, 45-27, to get to the state final. Instead of an all-BIIF matchup for the crown, Hawaii Prep lost to a gritty, young Roosevelt squad in the semifinals, 41-37.
Now, Kohala can have another celebration perhaps as jolly and grand as the annual King Kamehameha Day parade.
“This is such a huge thing. It’s emotional because it’s history,” Cazimero said. “It’s the first time we’ve made it this far. We still have two more years left and we still have chances to get it again.”
Emeliano, a junior, and Cazimero, a sophomore, will be among the returnees next season.
“Ever since our fathers have coached most of us since we were 5 years old, it was always our dream to get a banner of some sort, get some recognition at the state level. That means a whole lot to us, our parents and the rest of Kohala,” Emeliano said.
Cazimero was in tears of joy, sitting at midcourt after the team was done dog-piling at the final horn.
“I’m going to tell my dad that I love him. I appreciate him so much. Without him, I wouldn’t be here right now,” he said.
Emeliano has his mind on the new banner.
“I’m hoping it’s going to be the biggest banner up there. The other one (a runner-up banner from 2007). It’s black and just big on top of the wall,” he said. “I’m just hoping to put another one right by it.”
HHSAA Division II State Tournament
|1||Feb. 19||(1) Hawaii Prep vs. University||HPA, 63-46||Kaimuki|
|2||Feb. 19||(4) Roosevelt vs. Seabury Hall||Roos, 58-35||Kaimuki|
|3||Feb. 19||(2) Hanalani vs. McKinley||McK, 51-50||Kalani|
|4||Feb. 19||(3) Kauai vs. Kohala||Koh, 68-64||Kalani|
|5*||Feb. 20||University vs. Seabury Hall||SH, 45-31||Kalani|
|6*||Feb. 20||Hanalani vs. Kauai||Kauai, 48-46||Kalani|
|7||Feb. 20||Hawaii Prep vs. Roosevelt||Roos, 41-37||Kaimuki|
|8||Feb. 20||McKinley vs. Kohala||Koh, 45-27||Kaimuki|
|9*||Feb. 21||Seabury Hall vs. Kauai||Kauai, 52-49||Stan Sheriff Center|
|10*||Feb. 21||Hawaii Prep vs. McKinley||HPA, 52-39||Stan Sheriff Center|
|11||Feb. 21||Roosevelt vs. Kohala||Koh, 51-48||Stan Sheriff Center|
|* — consolation|