CLOSING THE BOOK: Konawaena always finds a way to compete for state title

Konawaena's Kassie Alapai (32) hauls in a loose ball ahead of Iolani's Alexsandra Huntimer. Darryl Oumi / Special to the Star-Advertiser

Closing the Book: No. 2 Konawaena (23-4, 10-0 BIIF)

The work was done well, as always, by the Konawaena Wildcats.

No, it wasn’t a state-championship season. It was very close, though. In the state final, they took on No. 1 ‘Iolani, a team that routed the Wildcats in preseason. Konawaena was left in the dust early on, then roared back to take the lead. It was a battle to the end before ‘Iolani won its second state title in a row, 55-46.

Coach Bobbie Awa’s Wildcats have won nine state titles since 2003, more than any other program in the state. Co-head coach Dawnyelle Awa, her daughter and former All-State guard, promised that the ‘Cats will put in the work during the offseason. They will have a competitive core of talent back in the 2020-21 season, even with the graduation of All-State forward Caiyle Kaupu, who will play at UC Irvine, and reliable point guard Grace Hing.

Longtime sportswriter Bobby Command shared his thoughts about the team. He began covering BIIF sports in 1984 and has continued to follow the Wildcats since leaving West Hawaii Today. Command has been the team’s PA man at home games for the past few seasons.

This season was ________.
> Expected.
Command: “I thought that they would do what they did, which is get to the state championship. When they went into that game, I didn’t think they were going to win. They had the firepower to win. If you replay that game 100 times, ‘Iolani wins maybe 70 times. I don’t think it was destined that ‘Iolani was going to win. When whatever happened at Waiakea happened the year before, it changed the trajectory of the following season. Otherwise Braelyn (Kauhi) would’ve played at Waiakea. I’m a firm believer in this, having the best players doesn’t necessarily mean that you win. Waiakea doesn’t know how to win a state championship yet. Once you’re there, it becomes a lot easier to win.

This the thing that puzzles me about Lahainaluna. They’re perennial No. 3 or No. 4 team in the state. Three years ago, when Konawaena won their fourth in a row, that was destiny. I knew they would win. Bobbie kind of hides her cards during preseason. She won’t press, and they show a little less. This year, I knew they would get there and beat Waiakea. Especially with Braelyn.

This season was the movie ________.
> Iron Giant.
Command: “Konawaena grabs the bomb and flies into the sky. The bomb explodes, but the world is good. And then pieces start creeping back to form the Giant again.”

Review: Starters and key rotation/role players:
Caiyle Kaupu
Command: “When she wanted to play and wanted to be the best player in the state. She was the best player in the state. I like her physicality. She’s not afraid to mix it up. Obviously, her Achilles heel was her tendency to foul early. This season was sort of like Mana Hopkins’ last season. There were other good players around her, but at the end, they sort of ran out of gas.”

Kaliana Salazar-Harrell
Command: “I think she’s the next Konawaena superstar, not that she already isn’t. She’s the next girl that they put the picture next to Caiyle, who was next to the Molinas. She’s not afraid to shoot the ball. If she’s missing, she’ll still take the shot. That’s kind of her attitude. She has a penchant for making important shots.”

Grace Hing
Command: “She is one of my favorite players of all time. When she came up there was no room for her and she played JV. She earned everything that she got. Good ballhandler. She played that role to perfection for Konawaena and that’s why Kaliana was successful. Kaliana moves well without the ball. She complemented Kaliana perfectly.”

Braelyn Kauhi
Command: “Braelyn started out very tentative, but by the end of the season you could see she wasn’t to become a great player. She needed a little time. She’s going to be another great Konawaena player. I like her physicality. She’s not afraid to mix it up. That’s a big asset in girls basketball. She’s a versatile player. She can play inside and outside.”

Juliana Losalio-Watson, Kayla Pak, Jayla Medeiros, Kassie Alapai
Losalio-Watson was highly effective as a defender, rebounder. Pak showed plenty of confidence from the perimeter, particularly during the state tournament. Medeiros and Alapai were strong defenders in the post.

Command: “They were interchangeable, her and Kayla Pak. They filled that space nicely. When they first came up, you could see their potential, but they were very tentative. But she grew into her role. Pak, the same way. Jayla Medeiros reminds me a lot of Kim Brown. In her senior year, she turned it on. Jayla’s the same way. Kassie became a basketball player and certainly contributed a lot. She probably surprised a lot of people. She was a good role player.”

Did the rotation change?
Command: “It was pretty consistent. Kayla was probably penciled in as a starter, but when Braelyn came, it kind of pushed her out. But she was still the first one off the bench.”

What or who surprised you most?
Command: “Gracie Hing was probably the most pleasant surprise of the year. She was good last year, but she really turned it on this year.”

What were the most adverse challenges?
Command: “No. I think it was a good year. Waiakea and Hilo pushed them hard. It was a good season. I don’t think there was much adversity. Everybody has injuries and surprises.”

What was the peak? What was the low?
Command: “I think Konawaena slowly built up to the end. There was no real low spot in the season. The low was obviously (King) Kekaulike. The high might have been the last quarter of the game against Waiakea in the (BIIF) championship game. I thought Konawaena was going to blow them out, but give Waiakea credit.”

What will you miss about this group?
Command: “I like Caiyle. She’s a real nice girl, always has a smile on her face, real polite.”

What are you anticipating for offseason and next season?
Command: “They’ll be OK next year, it depends on what they come up with. They always come up with something. The same teams will compete for the championship. Konawaena will be OK. They’ll probably win the (BIIF) championship again. Waiakea has a lot of kids coming back and they’ll push each other. Two of the top three teams (in the state) are on the Big Island. I would like to see (BIIF) D-I teams playing D-I teams. If you’ve got to play Waiakea four or five times, do it, but travel is an issue.”


  1. Fullcourt March 28, 2020 8:12 am

    Interesting breakdown Bobby command

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