A new peak: ‘Iolani three-peats in girls hoops

At any speed, the ‘Iolani Raiders were superb in the 2021-22 girls basketball season. With a 28-17 win over Konawaena on Saturday, ‘Iolani has won three Division I state titles in a row under Dean Young. Paul Honda/phonda@staradvertiser.com.

There was mostly joy this week for the ‘Iolani Raiders.

And definitely some drama. There were some quiet, tense moments for fans when the Raiders struggled to pull away from a resilient Campbell squad in the semifinals. Konawaena would not relent in the Division I final of the Heide & Cook/HHSAA Girls Basketball State Championships on Saturday at Blaisdell Center.

Coach Dean Young had moments of relief, anguish, even heartbreak and again, joy through the course of three days. The Raiders made it three state crowns in a row, outlasting Konawaena, 28-17, in the final. Jovi Wahinekapu Lefotu capped an elite career with 14 points, eight rebounds, two assists and two steals while leading the fastbreak and halfcourt offense. The Hawaii-bound senior averaged 13.3 points, 10.3 rebounds and two steals per game.


“I feel great. I feel happy. Excited. I don’t know, speechless,” Lefotu said before the Raiders cut the next down.


‘Iolani was a wire-to-wire No. 1 in the Star-Advertiser Girls Basketball Top 10, sharing the top spot with Konawaena in week one, then owning the top spot since. Lefotu missed a few games early on with an injury, but was the ultimate Swiss army knife as a masterful weapon capable of dominating from any position on the floor.

“Her legacy. She could’ve been maybe the only ‘Iolani player to have four state championships if we had played and possibly won last year,” Young said. “Her legacy could’ve been even bigger.”

Lefotu and her teammates seemed to be tireless. She played just 21 minutes in a quarterfinal win over Maui, then played 29 minutes in a physical battle with Campbell. On Saturday, Lefotu played all 32 minutes.

“During the pandemic when everyone was isolated, everyone on our team, they took the time. They stayed motivated and worked hard. Conditioning on our own was key,” Lefotu said.

Abby Tanaka and Haylie-Anne Ohta provided gritty perimeter defense and 3-point marksmanship. Sophomore Jaety Mandaquit was a defensive menace with clutch shooting and offensive versatility. Mele Sake and Callie Pieper emerged as a highly effective combination on the low post. Paige Oh, a sophomore, is the latest in a seemingly infinite line of hard-nosed guards.

Mandaquit was deployed consistently as a stopper all season long. She limited Konawaena’s prolific playmaker, Kaliana Salazar-Harrell, to 1-for-6 shooting before the two jostled in mid-air on the block, resulting in a knee injury to Salazar-Harrell, as the first half ended.


Young and his staff, including longtime assistant Cy Ohta, rely heavily on team defensive concepts, but Mandaquit embraced the challenge of her unique role.

“Is she not the defensive player of the year? She’s amazing. Every game, we put her on the other team’s best scorer and she shuts them out,” he said. “You see how hard she plays from start to finish? She never takes a play off. It’s amazing.”

‘Iolani Raiders guard Jaety Mandaquit found herself under pressure from the Konawaena Wildcats during the state girls basketball finals at Blaisdell Center (Saturday, Feb 19). George F. Lee/glee@staradvertiser.com.
‘Iolani Raiders guard Paige Oh and Konawaena Wildcats wing Braelyn Kauhi chased a loose ball during the state girls basketball finals at Blaisdell Center (Saturday, Feb 19). George F. Lee/glee@staradvertiser.com.

Continuous, perpetual motion has been the constant for the Raiders through this dynastic surge. Prior to the arrival of sisters Lily Lefotu Wahinekapu and Jovi Wahinekapu Lefotu, ‘Iolani had three girls basketball state titles. The first was in 1987 under Calvin Hashimoto, followed by titles in ’89, ’95 and ’96 under Bernie Ching.

Then came a long drought with runner-up finishes in ’08 and ’12 — the latter being a loss to Konawaena and coach Awa — until the three-peat of ’19, ’20 and this year.

It very possibly would have been a four-peat if not for the pandemic and cancellation of winter sports a year ago, when the Raiders had a stacked senior class full of talent, chemistry and experience.

Defense — limiting the dynastic Konawaena Wildcats to a championship-game record-low 17 points — will continue to be ‘Iolani’s cornerstone.

With seven state titles in girls basketball, the Raiders are closing the gap on the nine-time state champion Wildcats.

COMMENTS

  1. Fullcourt February 20, 2022 1:13 pm

    Who knows what would’ve happened had Salazar not got injured


  2. Coach/fan February 20, 2022 6:19 pm

    Cal won 1, Mr. Ching won 3, and now this 3-peat. Doesn’t that make the count 7?


  3. Fan February 20, 2022 7:58 pm

    @Fullcourt

    I strongly dislike people or commentators who say this type of thing. Its one thing, if the wildcats were up by 20 and Salazar got hurt and then Iolani came back.

    the reality is, Salazar played the whole first half. Iolani was up by 6. Yeah things can changed, but we saw what happened when Salazar was playing. it was a competitive game, but Iolani still was the better team.

    Christmas toigai didnt even play in the finals. so then u can say, “wonder what would have happened”

    but to ignore the first half in this game, is silly


  4. Paul Honda February 22, 2022 10:38 am

    Thank you.


  5. Fullcourt February 23, 2022 8:48 pm

    @fan
    I think everyone had that thought . It wasn’t anything disrespectful towards iolani . Just thinking how the 2nd half might’ve played out without the injury . Iolani may still have won but who knows . Just my thoughts


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