Basketball season at the prep level was so short, but so dynamic in 2021-22.
On the girls’ side, there were roughly five to 10 fewer preseason games for most teams. The diminished opportunity to play teams from other leagues, other islands and states left many fans wanting more. In the end, the regular season, playoffs and state championships filled much of the void — until the Division I state final.
‘Iolani’s Jovi Wahinekapu Lefotu was unstoppable, a force of nature who was already fueled up long before the pandemic. Coming out of the cancelled 2020-21 season, she was one of many hoopsters who continued to play at an elite level plus more. In the state final, it was Lefotu and teammate Jaety Mandaquit who provided the greatest impact. The Raiders’ 28-17 win over Konawaena made it three state crowns in a row for coach Dean Young’s program.
Lefotu was named all-state tournament and, two weeks ago, voted by coaches and media the Star-Advertiser girls basketball All-State player of the year. She had, in so many ways, the perfect season. The ultimate, versatile offensive playmaker. An outstanding rebounder. Thriving in transition with as a initiator and finisher. A defensive menace and shot blocker. Lefotu was voted No. 1, tied with Mandaquit, as defensive player of the year.
The University of Hawaii, already gaining momentum after an outstanding season in the Big West Conference, is getting a golden one.
But was she a lock for P.O.Y.? Lefotu was a wire-to-wire standout, even after missing a few games in preseason due to an injury. It was Konawaena’s Kaliana Salazar-Harrell who had, arguably, the most dominant season by a BIIF player since Chanelle Molina. Salazar-Harrell, a four-year starter and multiple All-State Fab 15 selection, ramped up her game for senior year. The startling quickness and speed were always there, but the sheer strength made her an ultimate threat to every foe.
There may not have been a guard with quicker feet and hands than the senior. The multiple 30-point games were no surprise, but what she did at the state championships reminded many watchers, including All-State panelists, that the Wildcats and their feeder program, the Kona Stingrays, has no slippage whatsoever after two decades of sweat equity.
Salazar-Harrell had 24 points and three steals against OIA runner-up Mililani in the state quarterfinal round. Then she had 27 points and three steals against the MIL’s dynastic program, Lahainaluna. She had two points against ‘Iolani when she lost her balance in mid-air while defending Mandaquit in the final seconds of the first half of the state final. Her knee injury kept her sidelined for the rest of the game.
If she stayed healthy and scores 20 points against ‘Iolani, it may not have been enough to sway voters in the POY voting. In fact, just a guess here, it would’ve taken at least another 24- or 27-point effort by Salazar-Harrell to convince them that she, not Lefotu, was worth of the honor.
It wasn’t to be. Lefotu’s resume — and her electricity — powered the Raiders, a fairly young team with tremendous skill and cohesion. Replacing her production will not be easy for Young, the All-State coach of the year. Replacing her verve, motor and natural leadership as a captain is altogether another challenge.
Here’s a look at what coaches said about this year’s Fab 15, All-Defensive selections and more.
>> No. 1 Jovi Lefotu, ‘Iolani, 5-9, Sr.
Young: “Jovi is a true three-level scorer. She shoots the 3, is great at the midrange and attacks the rim better than almost anyone I saw this year. She’s such a happy and humble young lady, but she puts the work in and has a competitive fire. She was a great leader for our young team and she encouraged and supported them which gave them a lot of the confidence necessary to win it all.”
Gary Pacarro, Punahou: “Jovi plays with much maturity in her leadership on the court and off the court. Has the full package and looks for her teammates. Makes good basketball decisions.”
Mark Arquero, Damien: “Absolutely love how humble she is. Obviously extremely talented in all aspects of the game, but all the intangibles are just as impressive. Work ethic is remarkable because she continues to put in so much work. I think the unique, but also great thing to see, is that on more than one occasion I’ve seen players on opposing teams ask her for autographs and/or pictures. It’s great that she can be a role model and represent Hawaii so well, and as previously mentioned, she’s so down to earth and humble about it.”
Rick Gonsalves, Aiea: “Jovi is the best all-around player in the state. Does it all, Three-level shooting, defense, IQ passing, facilitating, ball handling, you name it.”
Pua Straight, Kamehameha: “Top-notch player in all facets of the game: IQ, skill set, athleticism, mindset, play making ability, etc. What always impresses me most about her and her older sister is their temperament when they play the game. She proved this season that she could lead a more inexperienced ʻIolani team to another state title. What an outstanding career she has had in high school and best of luck to her as she joins Imai at UH.”
Honda: “Arguably one of the most versatile players in Hawaii high school hoops history. There is not a skill that she hasn’t mastered, or close to it. Lefotu is the kind of hoopster, so cerebral with a killer instinct, who will be sorely missed in the prep ranks.”
>> No. 2 Kaliana Salazar-Harrell, Konawaena, 5-5, Sr.
Straight: Another top-notch player in all facets of the game. She is a point guard that gets her team involved, but also has the ability to take over a game when her team needs her to. This season, she looked like she really improved her strength while still retaining her quickness. Another girl with an outstanding high school career! I was sad to see her go down in that state championship game. I pray that her recovery goes well and best of luck to her as she joins Wahinekapu at Fullerton.”
Young: “Kaliana is a dangerous scorer who’s deadly accurate from distance on the catch and shoot or off the dribble. She looked significantly stronger this season and it showed when she attacked the rim.”
Arquero: “Only got to see her a few times in person but she’s a remarkable talent. When you talk about college ready she checks all the boxes. Hoping she’s able to recover quickly and wish her all the best.”
Gonsalves: “Scorer, leader, quick with good handles. Probably should be considered as a MVP for what she means to her team. Size for size, best in state.”
Frank Mauz, former sportswriter, covered or witnessed the state championships since 1977: “The only one I feel qualified to comment on is Kaliana. Her 3-point stats speak for themselves, but what impressed me the most is her “basketball IQ.” More than any player i have seen, she has that intangible which combines leadership, poise and skill(s), including tenacious pick-pocket defense. A memorable play? Absolutely yes! This year’s state quarterfinal vs Mililani. (Because of the pandemic, I had to wait two years to see her again). Off the opening tip, it took her just 4 seconds (clock read 7:56) to score on a layup. (The stats person was so stunned that the official play-by-play listed the time as 8:00). It may have been the quickest basket ever off the opening tip at any level.”
Honda: “In many other years, Salazar-Harrell would have been voted All-State player of the year. Her season was immaculate, which says a lot about how well Jovi Lefotu played in every aspect.”
>> No. 3 Jaety Mandaquit, ‘Iolani, 5-6, So.
Young: “Jaety is one of the best defenders I’ve seen in Hawaii girls basketball. She’s relentless, tireless and persistent. She has a high IQ for a sophomore and is very coachable. She’s been assigned to guard our opponents’ best scorer and has shut them down every time. She’s already a pretty good three-point shooter and attacks the basket with both hands. With her work ethic and basketball family, I’m sure she’s going to keep improving.”
Straight: “Unbelievably high motor. While she has a good skill set, the thing I was most impressed by with Mandaquit was her motor and mindset. She was constantly in motion and never dwelled on her mistakes as a young player. Definitely think she should have been a selection to the all defensive team as well.”
Arquero: “The pedigree is there but she lives up to it and handles herself very well. She’s talented and still getting better.”
Gonsalves: “Lockdown defender, good scorer, great IQ, intense and physical.”
Honda: “Aggressive, great motor, smart and those make her an elite defender. It makes sense that coaches and media voted her and Lefotu No. 1 in the All-Defensive balloting. Her 3-point shot has been a big weapon coming up through intermediate play, but her ability to finish is good and will get better.”
>> No. 4 Laynee Torres-Kahapea, Punahou, 5-6, Jr.
Young: “Laynee was the engine that made the Punahou girls team run. She ran the point, was their main scorer, was responsible for creating for her teammates and one of their best defenders.”
Straight: “Laynee is a high IQ play maker. While I think her greatest strengths are finishing at the basket and creating for her teammates, she has shown great improvement as a shooter and is now capable of consistently knocking down the 3.”
Arquero: “Exceptional floor general. Plays with a lot of passion and does a good job get others involved. Thing that stands out the most to me is her floor vision. She always seems to make the right decision on the court too.”
Honda: “She played through injury and didn’t lose a bit of intensity. Her game is rugged, but her court vision and willingness to go to the bucket and take the physicality are not common.”
>> No. 5 Kayla Thornton, Maui, 5-10, Sr.
Young: “She’s a tough scoring guard with good size who can hit a step-back three or shoot the midrange over a smaller defender.”
Pacarro: “Kayla Thornton: Definitely the engine of Maui High’s offense. She’s their leader.”
>> No. 6 Ledjan Pahukoa, Lahainaluna, 5-7, Jr.
Arquero: “Been impressed with her from the early club ball scene. She must have been eighth-grade when I first saw her and she was knocking down Steph Curry range 3s with no problem.”
Honda: “Pahukoa showed substantially increased strength since freshman year (at King Kekaulike). Her ability to bring the ball upcourt against on-ball pressure and run the offense was a key factor for the Lady Lunas. She also can take the ball to the rack and draw contact, something I believe she will thrive at this offseason and next year when she is a senior. I hope that happens, more balance and less dependence on NBA-range 3-point tries. She’s a terrific free-throw shooter.”
>> No. 7 Taylor Eldredge, Lahainaluna, 5-8, Sr.
Honda: “A perfectly versatile scorer inside and outside. 3-point range and the ability to work in the paint for buckets and putbacks. Frankly, she could have been utilized much more and stabilized the Lady Lunas’ offense, but Eldredge made the most of her touches.”
>> No. 8 Theresa Anakalea, Damien, 5-4, Jr.
Straight: Regardless of division, she is hands down one of the best scorers in the state (and has been since her freshman year). She has such a diverse skill set, hard work ethic, and high motor. What impresses me most when I watch her play is the passion that she has for the game. She has really thrived as the ‘go-to’ girl at Damien and I hope to see her in more Division 1 matchups next season!”
Richard Kasuya, Sacred Hearts: “Theresa has been outstanding all season long. She can score from anywhere on the court, and has the ability to take over games. I have so much respect for her competitiveness and spirit. In my opinion, she is definitely one of the top players in the state, regardless of division or league.”
Arquero: “She truly loves the game of basketball and works so hard for it. Ultimate competitor, fearless, relentless, and I think she’ll be even hungrier next year. Mentioned it before but during her Freshman year, we had to win the play in game for states and we were down a few players due to injuries and she really stepped up and carried the load while facing double and triple teams. This past year, very similar situation against Hanalani where our 2 other guards fouled out so she carried the load while facing double and triple teams and led us to victory.”
Honda: “Her motor is unsurpassed. Maybe matched by a few, but not surpassed. She was at her best, often times, after halftime. Just a gutty grinder who finds ways to ignite her team on both ends — and happens to be a deadly 3-point shooter, too.”
>> No. 9 Julien Parado, Campbell, 5-6, Jr.
Young: “She has a really nice shooting touch which she maintains with her floater.”
Gonsalves: “Tough, physical, scorer, great defender and rebounder. I like her intensity.”
Arquero: “Julien is a coach’s dream. Smart, skillset, attitude, efficiency, she’s got it all. Offensively she can handle the ball, shoot the outside shot, finish around the rim and has a knack for being in the right place at the right time. But I think the most impressive thing is her versatility on defense; OIA playoffs she guarded Radford’s center Angel (Asaah) one game and then the very next game guarded Mililani’s point guard Jovi. She’s so reliable and I’m glad so got the recognition she did this year because she deserves it.”
Honda: “She looks like a classic, speedy slasher, but her strength against bigs on the low post is uncanny. Much tougher and stronger than most 5-6 guards.”
>> No. 10 Kierstyn Agonias, Hilo, 5-7, Sr.
Honda: “Versatility, toughness and rebounding along with the potential to score 15, 20 on any night. Hilo’s scoring depth was a plus this season, leaving Agonias with a slightly lighter scoring responsibility. She still provided the Vikings’ needs inside and outside.”
>> No. 11 Braelyn Kauhi, Konawaena, 5-8, Jr.
Young: “She’s developed a tough inside game to match her three-point shooting.”
Gonsalves: “Tough rebounder, physical, team player.”
Honda: “She gives coach Bobbie Awa a pinnacle-level chess piece on the floor, someone who can post up, splash 3s, handle the ball against pressure, and defend on the block. Her footwork on the low post is excellent.”
>> No. 12 Kayla Pak, Konawaena, 5-3, Sr.
Young: “Deadly 3-point shooter that you can’t leave open especially when she uses the ball screen.”
Honda: “Tremendous defensive instincts and playmaking in Konawaena’s swarming matchup zone. Her passing and clutch shooting from deep complemented Kaliana Salazar-Harrell perfectly.”
>> No. 13. Jolie Mantz, Waiakea, 5-7, So.
17 ppg, 40 3-pointers
Arquero: “I was lucky to be able to coach Jolie during last summer and she’ll be phenomenal with a bright future ahead of her. She’s very coachable, works hard on both sides of the floor and is an absolute bucket. She’s had a few games where she’s made 8 3s and she shoots a high percentage.”
>> No. 14 Lilly Koki, Maryknoll, 5-8, Sr.
Young: “What I love most about Lilly Koki is her motor and her competitive desire. She’s a danger from deep or posting up inside.”
Straight: “Big and strong guard with the ability to score in a variety of ways. In my opinion, she was the leader and heart of that Maryknoll team this season. She can knock down shots off the catch, elevate for shots off the dribble, finish at the rim, and post up smaller guards for back to the basket finishes.”
Honda: “The relentless nature of her offense, always ready to attack the rim, was an invaluable weapon. Tough on defense, stronger than most posts, and well-suited to physical play on the perimeter as a slasher, too.”
>> No. 15 Jahlyxcs Liana, Nanakuli, 5-3, Sr.
Arquero: “Lyxc is a great athlete and a great scorer. She’s another player that can do whatever the team needs whether its being the primary ball handler or being the go to scorer. She’s so effective attacking the basket but she’s also has good range from 3. Like a lot of the others, she has a great attitude, very humble and comes from a solid, supportive family.”
Aliyah Bantolina, Campbell
Abby Tanaka, ‘Iolani
Emi Wada, Hawaii Baptist
Kylee Kamauoha-Phillips, Kamehameha
Alexus Ma‘ae, Kaiser
KalysaMarie Ng, Sacred Hearts
Angel Asaah, Radford
Juliana Losalio-Watson, Konawaena
Ciera Tugade-Agasiva, Maryknoll
Shilee Scanlan, Pearl City
Tavina Harris, Lahainaluna
Chaland Pahukoa, Lahainaluna
Makenzie Alapai, Kamehameha
Joey Lin, Hawaii Baptist
Shailoh Liilii, Moanalua
Raini Mayo, Mililani
Mahealani Choy Foo, Mililani
Makalah Richardson, Roosevelt
Avery Snyder, Waiakea
Leiana Thornton, Maui
Ceci Enos, Nanakuli
Brittlay Carillo, Seabury Hall
Alana Nagata, University
Olivia Malafu, Kapaa
Tiare Arquero, Damien
Ayana Meyer, Hilo
Veda Galima, Hilo
Haylie-Anne Ohta, ‘Iolani
Faith Mersburgh, Hanalani
Jirah Villanueva, Radford
Talailelagi Wily-Ava, Kahuku
Pio Tuivai, Seabury Hall
Tanea Loa, Punahou
Kiera Kaniho, Lahainaluna
Mailana Mattos, Radford
* * *
1. (tie) Jaety Mandaquit, ‘Iolani
1. (tie) Jovi Lefotu, ‘Iolani
3. Kaliana Salazar-Harrell, Konawaena
4. Juliana Losalio-Watson, Konawaena
5. Taimane Faleafine-Auwae, Maryknoll
6. Mele Sake, ‘Iolani
7. Kayla Pak, Konawaena
8. Laynee Torres-Kahapea, Punahou
9. Angel Asaah, Radford
10. Talailelagi Wily-Ava, Kahuku
>> Juliana Losalio-Watson, Konawaena, 5-7, Sr.
Young: “She’s very impressive athletically and she did a great job holding down the middle of the Kona matchup zone against us.”
Honda: “Wiry, rangy, highly efficient in her defensive coverages from end to end. Konawaena’s halfcourt defensive sets didn’t show off Losalio-Watson’s on-ball defense over 94 feet, but she was always in the right place at the right time. Her athleticism and quickness will be a plus at the next level.”
>> Mele Sake, ‘Iolani, 6-0, So.
Young: “Mele is a difference-maker defending the paint. She provides a defensive and rebounding presence for us that we’ve rarely had. With the missed season last year, she hasn’t had time to develop her offensive game but she’ll be working on it during the off-season. She’s also the funniest and biggest personality on the team if not the entire school. ‘Iolani is lucky to have her.”
>> Honda: “Sake’s height and strength are a rare combination for ‘Iolani. Her quick-twitch explosiveness as a shot blocker changes the game for ILH foes.”
>> Taimane Faleafine-Auwae, Maryknoll, 6-1, Jr.
Pacarro:: “Maryknoll’s big presence. Good defender.”
Honda: “She has all the tools, all the athletic gifts. Does she have that sense of urgency, even a mean streak, as a rim protector? Sometimes…”
>> Angel Asaah, Radford, 5-10, Sr.
Joe Cho, Roosevelt: “Best defender in the state.”
Honda: “An ultimate protector in the paint, always willing to step in, provide help-side defense, give up her body for her team. Her activity, her motor, are rare.”
>> Talailelagi Wily-Ava, Kahuku, 5-8, Fr.
Honda: “Her athleticism and strength make her a de facto free safety on defense. Only a freshman, but her rebounding, coverage and power are eye-popping.”