Dedicated to ‘Kella: Kona three-peats

Konawaena guard Mikayla Tablit (2) handed the trophy to her teammates after Konawaena won its eighth state championship. Photo by Jamm Aquino/Star-Advertiser.
Konawaena guard Mikayla Tablit (2) handed the trophy to her teammates after Konawaena won its eighth state championship. Photo by Jamm Aquino/Star-Advertiser.

Very little has changed for Bobbie Awa in the 16 years since she became the girls basketball coach at her alma mater.

The year 2001 was an oddity for students. The teachers’ strike shortened many things, including the seasons of student-athletes. But it was the beginning for Awa in her first varsity head coach after nearly a decade of starting and coaching the Kona Stingrays club with husband Donald. In ’03, with many of those original Stingrays — including niece Jessica Hanato — at Konawaena High School, the Wildcats won their first girls basketball state championship.

Fourteen years later, Awa and her staff have guided the program to a total of eight state titles, all at the Division I level. This time, there’s a a new twist: a three-peat, which had never been done by the Wildcats. A thrilling 53-48 win over powerhouse Maryknoll on Saturday closed another chapter in an illustrious book — more like encyclopedia — that no one saw coming back in ’01.


No other coach in Hawaii girls basketball history has won as many state titles. Only one other school, Punahou, has won more as a program: 11. Konawaena, without the resources, history and enrollment of the Sons (and Daughters) of Oahu, has continually confounded doubters, as Awa calls them. In her blue jeans and slippers, without the vocal volume of many of her peers, and often with a roster small in numbers and size — eight Wildcats suited up for the title game Saturday — few other coaches in any sport have created a legacy like Awa’s.

Her daughter, Dawnyelle, is now co-head coach since returning from a playing career at Washington State. Hanato, one of the versatile, tough-nosed all-state players from the first state-title team, has been an assistant coach for years. Another assistant, Kevin Yamasaki, has also been part of the Stingrays and Wildcats staffs for years since his daughter’s playing days.

Hanato says this is the hardest road the program has had to take to the championship mountaintop. Awa doesn’t disagree, but with such a young group, including freshman center Caiyle Kaupu — sister of former standout Courtney Kaupu — it was clear from preseason that this team needed time to develop. The drop-off since the graduation of three-time All-State player of the year Chanelle Molina was significant.

“Every one is different,” Awa said of the eight crowns. “So many people had doubts this year. I think that made our girls stronger. We worked a little bit harder. It’s just amazing. I’m excited.”

Developing skills and increase basketball IQ has been a way of life at Konawaena, and the roles that young Wildcats played — Kaupu with 11 points and nine rebounds, sophomore Tanniya Uchida with two game-changing 3-pointers in the second half — were no surprise to Awa.

She had faith in her team, as always, from day one. The rest of the state, mostly not so much belief in this year’s Wildcats early on. Yet, what Awa is more proud of is the way they continued to focus while keeping one of their JV players in the circle.

McKella Akana, a freshman, was diagnosed with lymphoma late in the season.

“We’ve gone through a lot this season. I’m so proud of these girls. These green ribbons we wear are for ‘Kella,” Awa said. “She’s in Kapiolani (Medical Center for Women and Children).”

The team visited her on Monday.

“We dedicated this game, this whole season to her. She’s getting better. The chemo is starting,” guard Mikayla Tablit said.

“The day before the playoffs back home, she already had the lump, she took the biopsy,” Awa said. “She got the results and flew up here (Honolulu) the next day. It’s really tough. We dedicated the state tournament to her. The girls had her in their thoughts all night. They wanted to win this for ‘Kella.”

In a game that hinged young reserves for each team, Sisilia Kaufusi gave Maryknoll a major lift with five points in the second quarter. With the game seemingly in the balance on every possession of the second half, Uchida did a little more than knock down those two massive trifectas.


With Maryknoll picking its spots with a potentially lethal fullcourt press, Uchida was in the backcourt when she received a skip pass, and within one dribble, she fired a left-handed pass to midcourt, where Cherilyn Molina then pushed to the rim and fed Kaupu for a layup. That gave Konawaena a 44-42 lead with 4:08 left.

Prior to that, the Spartans left her alone on both of her 3-point shots.

“We want that,” Maryknoll coach Chico Furtado said, noting that Uchida should have been cold coming off the bench. “Give her credit for making those shots.”

Uchida, generously listed at 5-2, shocked a lot of watchers.

“If it’s there, I’ll take it,” she said of her big shots.

Kaupu and Mahie Ka‘awa (four rebounds, two steals) were key on defense, giving senior Celena Jane Molina big support against Maryknoll’s tall, athletic front line. Ka‘awa hustled for four rebounds, including three on the offensive glass. In all, the Wildcats pulled down a whopping 11 offensive rebounds and got the edge on the boards in total, 28-25.

Kaupu got rattled some during that tense fourth quarter as Konawaena worked the clock with a small lead against Maryknoll’s halfcourt pressure. Once Kaupu settled in and squared up to the basket from the high post, she dished two crucial assists for buckets.

“Coach said to shake it off,” Celena Jane Molina said.

It was, as Furtado noted, a matter of the little things being big. Maryknoll shot 10-for-19 from the foul line while Konawaena was 16-for-24.

The Wildcats have rules about free throws at practice. Much of their conditioning is tied in to whether they individually hit two in a row, but the one that stands out is this: nobody goes home unless she makes 10 free throws in a row.

Kaupu was a key part of that game within a game, too, hitting three free throws in the final 15 seconds. She had no fear going up against Maryknoll’s shot-blocking, 6-2 junior center, Isabella Cravens.


Now, the Lady Spartans will have another offseason to build higher, another stretch of what-could’ve-been after another title-game loss to Konawaena. The good news is that nearly the entire roster will return next season. The bad news? Konawaena will lose Ka‘awa and Celena Jane Molina to graduation — she has a scholarship offer from Washington State — but the Wildcats will have everyone else back.

Konawaena-Maryknoll has been epic enough after two championship-game episodes to end the past two seasons. A third battle in the ’18 finals would probably be most fitting. Every time Maryknoll raises the bar, House Awa matches and surpasses. Epic has rarely been so unified and faithful.

COMMENTS

  1. The Watcher February 5, 2017 9:20 am

    It seems Jessica Hanato runs this team now. She has more of a stamp on the team and games than Awa does in my opinion.


  2. The Watcher February 5, 2017 9:59 am

    “Konawaena, without the resources, history and enrollment of the Sons (and Daughters) of Oahu, has continually confounded doubters, as Awa calls them.”

    Please point to both sides of the picture please Mr. Author. Yes, Kona doesn’t have the academic and athletic prestige (other than girls basketball) that Punahou has. But, there are a lot of advantages that Kona has over many schools.

    1) Solid feeder program
    2) Consistency and continuity from elementary school days.
    3) Can play year long versus the ILH’s Blackout Rule and ILH rule of not having more than 3 players from the same school on the same team.
    4) Interest (they have 8-10 girls come out from a small school versus about 40 from a school of 1700).
    5) Stability at the coaching level
    6) Experience at the coaching level

    What resources are you talking about? And how do these “so-called” resources help the Buffs?

    So what Kona is doing is amazing. But I think you are overstating what Punahou really has. Last time I checked, the almighty Buffs had to cancel both their INTER and JV Summer leagues for lack of interest.

    We are talking girls basketball correct? I thought you might be confusing it with football Mr. Author.


  3. The Watcher February 5, 2017 10:03 am

    At the end of the day, talent rules. Talent trumps great coaching, especially at the girls level. Getting 1 athletic girl is like hitting the lottery. Kona has like 5-6. The only schools that have similar or more talent consistently over the past 5 years could be Lahaina and Maryknoll.

    They have the receipt for success. Talented and Athletic Kids, Competitive Spirit, Winning Culture, and Consistency throughout the coaching staff.

    Punahou, Kamehameha, Iolani could have all the resources in the world. But if your enrollment is 1600 students that play the flute, read books, do robotics, and have minimal or no exposure to basketball, then the large student body and athletic resources is moot. I could understand if Punahou or Iolani was actively recruiting girls basketball players. But they are not.

    And if they are, and the rosters are the best they can get, then that recruiter needs to be fired and replaced by the guy who’s getting the talent into Maryknoll.


  4. Coach C February 5, 2017 11:10 am

    Nice job by Konawaena. GO PUBLICS! The thing is thru their season they don’t get competition from the BIIF but come states, they get to another level. MaryKnoll is a very talent Laden team. But to no avail because Konawaena has so much grit and heart. THEY KNOW THEY CAN BEAT ANY TEAM.


  5. Casual Observer February 5, 2017 1:15 pm

    In the main article, Furtado is quoted as saying “it not outcoaching…” and its just execution but that’s precisely why Konawaena is successful is because they are coached very, very well. Bobbie Awa has done the work at practice and with working with each player so she just watches them execute and no need for histrionics. And as for Kona having superior athletes, I would disagree. They don’t over power or dominate individually but play this team sport at their highest level. Many teams, including Maryknoll have bigger, faster athletes and more of them. And don’t forget, Kona had three freshmen that should be playing JV if they had a JV. Coach Awa is just doing something amazing.


  6. The Rim February 5, 2017 3:18 pm

    @Casual observer – Well stated! 8 championships with different girls and I still hear excuse after excuse about why they won. Oh and yes, Jessica Hanato plays a big role but remember, she played for Awa. Maryknoll had the size and speed advantage, but you can’t defend offensive execution and execute against good defensive fundamentals like blocking out and fighting for every loose ball. No matter what side you’re on, you gotta love good competitive basketball.


  7. Education First February 6, 2017 7:22 am

    It looks like Chico Furtado still cannot win the big one. Brandy Richardson for 4 years and no title. All the girls he has now and still no title.

    As for Kona, to say they don’t have great athletes is just crazy. I am at a loss for words now.


  8. Rams33 February 6, 2017 7:39 am

    @Ed First: Nobody is saying Kona doesn’t have great athletes. Casual observer said they don’t have “superior” athletes and I agree. Against Maryknoll the contrast was the greatest, but Maryknoll just has a ridiculous assortment of talent compared to the rest of the state. But even against other teams, Kona doesn’t generally have a height advantage nor do they win because of leaping ability or other athleticism factors.

    I loved watching their game against Maryknoll. That team is taller than Kona at every position except PG. They have athletes that can jump better than typically seen in Hawaii, and they probably even have more team speed than Kona. But Kona just “fundamentalled” them to death and it was a thing of beauty. Hats off to Konawaena, they deserved this win.


  9. Education First February 6, 2017 8:08 am

    I am sorry but I beg to differ. Against 99% of the state, they have superior athletes. Have you seen many of the Girls’ Teams? I agree with the Watcher that the youth/feeder program plays a huge role. It is no coincidence that a team like Lahainaluna, with a similar youth program is also highly successful.

    I disagree with they fundamental-ed them to death. I think Kona is battle tested and has a culture of winning. It’s contagious there. Maryknoll, while extremely talented, has yet to get over the last hump. And who knows if they ever will. Coach Furtado, while a solid coach, hasn’t proved that he can win the big one yet. I think he might be something like 0-5 or 0-7 in the championship game.

    I also think some kids on Maryknoll had “deer in the headlights” during the first quarter.

    Regardless, good win for the young girl in the hospital. We hope that she gets better soon.


  10. Education First February 6, 2017 8:10 am

    There are 3 teams above the rest in Hawaii Girls Basketball now, Kona, Maryknoll, and Lahaina. It is clear. The two neighbor island teams build from the youth age up with their feeder programs. Maryknoll gets talented kids in at 7th or 9th grade.


  11. Rams33 February 6, 2017 9:08 am

    That’s a good point you made about the deer-in-the-headlights factor. I didn’t see the game in person, but from the TV feed I was thinking more along the lines that Maryknoll seemed to lack energy early, even in their body language before tip-off. But I can certainly believe it being nerves on the big stage.

    But back to the talent issue, in terms of measurables Kona definitely isn’t superior. But we all see that they have a ton of great players flowing through that program. So it comes down to the question of whether that’s due to nature or nurture. I tend to think it’s so much more about their training and feeder programs than it is about getting naturally gifted players.


  12. Education First February 6, 2017 10:10 am

    I believe having the ability to play year round with the same kids in addition to starting early is a HUGE advantage. In the ILH, a coach is only allowed to coach a team with 3 kids from their school on it. Please correct me if I am wrong, but I believe they can play all year round and coaches are allowed to coach all year round with the kids. If this is a rule, it isn’t monitored very tight.

    In the ILH, just last year a coach got suspended for 2 games. He coached a team with more than 3 kids since he didn’t know the rule. After he found out, he reported it and the ILH quickly made him sit out the two regular season games.

    It also happened in baseball before. In the club scene on Oahu, teams that are together for only 1 year noticeably improve when they play together.

    Can you imagine 6-10 year together? That is the result we are seeing from Kona. Maybe more communities need to use this model. But then again, girls basketball doesn’t seem to popular compared to soccer and volleyball on Oahu.


  13. Poi Pounder February 6, 2017 3:17 pm

    How come no write up about the Mid Pac girls championship?
    They probably had one of the most dominant runs in Girls State Basketball tournament history.


  14. The Rim February 6, 2017 6:14 pm

    @ Poi Pounder – what in the world are you talking about?


  15. The Watcher February 6, 2017 9:56 pm

    That’s true @Poi Pounder. MPI had an amazing run and played great. From what I have seen this year, I think they are a top 6-10 team in the state. Brilie is amazing.


  16. The Rim February 7, 2017 5:44 am

    To say they had the most dominant run in Girls Basketball History? Come on guys, lets be real. They lost to Farrington, Kam Kapalama, and Maryknoll. They play DII competition…I don’t see your logic.


  17. Education First February 7, 2017 9:16 am

    The Rim February 7, 2017 at 5:44 am
    To say they had the most dominant run in Girls Basketball History? Come on guys, lets be real. They lost to Farrington, Kam Kapalama, and Maryknoll. They play DII competition…I don’t see your logic.

    ———————————-

    @ The Rim, I think Poi Pounder is saying relatively speaking. Poi Pounder writes, “How come no write up about the Mid Pac girls championship? They probably had one of the most dominant runs in Girls State Basketball tournament history.”

    He is referring to the State Tourney History. And if you look at it from that perspective, Poi Pounder is accurate. Since 2006 Punahou (when they smashed Roosevelt and Kuehu had like 27 at the half), no other team in the State Tourney (D1 or D2) has had the same kind of run like this MPI team just did. Most finals are really close in the D1 over the past 10 years.

    MPI just steamrolled everyone. So relatively speaking, I do agree that MPI’s run through the D2 Tournament was one of the most impressive championship runs in the history of the HHSAA.

    I don’t think Poi Pounder is saying MPI is better than D1 teams, he’s just saying that their run in the state tourney was impressive. I agree.


  18. The Rim February 7, 2017 1:56 pm

    Okay now move up to DI and try it there. I believe the other article said they played DIII competition.


  19. 100% KONA March 1, 2017 12:59 pm

    Stringrays plus Wildcats equal championships!
    Konawaena and girls B-ball on Moku Nui is just so competitive. There are so many factors (coaching, players, & school community) that make Konawaena one of the greatest programs. Unlike Honolulu where many of the youth play club ball year round, Moku nui youth play multiple sports with the seasons in addition to enjoying the great outdoors (hunting, fishing, raising live stock, etc). Credit given to programs that work with the limited resources and players on hand. This includes Mid Pacific Owls, Seabury, and St. Francis. Granted that they are D-2, but these programs don’t recruit, unlike other schools. Students admissions are based on academics, parent choice, and other factors. Once the coaches at Mid Pacific Owls changed their game to an up tempo and running game with 4-5 out set…..no D-2 team could match up. If MPI Owls played this type of Run and Gun game during the 2016 season they may have been D-2 champs repeat this year too. During states 2016 they convincingly defeated Kaimuki in the quarter finals and would have won at least 1 if not 2 of the teams that they lost to this year in the pre-season. MPI Owls need to return to D-1, parents now have more choices in the ILH, but remember they don’t recruit, so tell your child to study if they want to attend an excellent in school Honolulu.
    GO WILDCATS! 100% KONA


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