It is bittersweet, this end to another girls basketball season.
I still lament the change of seasons, when the girls went from having gyms to themselves in the spring time, moving into a crowded mess of facilities that the winter is.
But it is the way of the times. And now, the girls season is about to close. WITH A BANG. When Konawaena and Lahainaluna square off tonight, it won’t look like the finals matchup of 2010, will it? Maybe.
Konawaena (29-1, 12-0 BIIF) vs. Lahainaluna (24-1, 14-0 MIL)
Championship game, Stan Sheriff Center, 7 p.m.
Results: Konawaena pulled away from ILH runner-up Punahou 51-37 in the quarterfinal round, then stormed past OIA champ Roosevelt 54-33 in the semifinals. Lahainaluna routed Radford 68-24 in the quarterfinals and ousted ILH champ Maryknoll 55-44 in the semifinals.
Rankings: Konawaena is seeded first in the tournament. The Wildcats have been a season-long No. 1 team in the Star-Advertiser Girls Basketball Top 10. Lahainaluna is seeded second in the tourney and is ranked No. 3 in the Top 10.
Skinny: There many not be two programs as dedicated to year-round excellence as these two. The common denominator for the Wildcats and Lunas is continuity. Bobbie Awa has been at the helm through the growth of her Konawaena program, and with husband Donald and staff, the continued success of their Kona Stingrays club team has been a blueprint for many coaches and teams statewide.
Todd Rickard said flat-out some years ago that the Stingrays were his model as he built up both the Lunas and the Menehune program in West Maui.
This year, the twist of fate — three transfers from Lahainaluna to Konawaena — was unprecedented. Now that these two programs are heading directly into battle, the storyline will reach its apex.
Konawaena has been utterly sound fundamentally in its two state-tourney wins, in its unbeaten BIIF run, and in its stunning nonconference success — including wins over nationally-ranked Riverdale Baptist (Md.) and Miramonte (Calif.).
Lahainaluna has been a hurricane-force squad, routing all comers with one exception: Konawaena. The teams met in preseason and the Wildcats won 61-52.
That, however, was two months ago. The Lunas have developed more chemistry since then, and what they lost when Lindsay Bates, Taylor Bates and Aloha Salem departed, opened the door wide open for the rest of their personnel.
Point guard Fiamea Hafoka has been a steadying influence without losing her explosiveness with the ball. She had 15 points, six assists, eight steals and just two turnovers in the win over Radford. Against Maryknoll, she had 18 points and just three turnovers, playing all 32 minutes. The Lunas fastbreak was raging and fierce most of the night.
Her value on both ends of the floor was clearly evident last night after Cameron Fernandez fouled out. Though the Lunas’ 28-point lead nearly evaporated — Maryknoll cut it down to 10 in the final minutes — Hafoka was a key to stemming the tide and keeping her young teammates focused and poised.
Keleah-Aiko Koloi has been another huge factor for Lahainaluna. She had 15 points and 17 rebounds against Radford, then delivered nine points, 21 boards, three assists and five blocks against Maryknoll.
Her dominance in the paint negated most of Maryknoll’s inside game. The Spartans’ go-to scorer, Maegen Martin, finished with 11 points on 4-for-13 shooting, plus seven boards. Lahainaluna’s edge on the glass: 51-33.
Konawaena has the premier player in the state, Chanelle Molina. She hasn’t disappointed this week, coming through in the clutch when defenses look to lock down on the Wildcats. The junior had 16 points, six caroms and three assists against Punahou, and nearly had a triple-double against Roosevelt with 20 points, nine boards, eight dimes and five steals.
But the Wildcats haven’t tweaked their offense to get her shots. They still run their motion sets, but with an accent on locating their best offensive player in her happy zone — the elbow areas.
The presence of long-range shooters Lindsay Bates, Taylor Bates and Salem (who scored 46 points on 14 treys two weeks ago against Hawaii Prep) forces defenders to make tough choices on the fly.
In between, Molina and her teammates share the ball efficiently, and that has led to layups and open mid-range shots for Celena Jane Molina and Ihi Victor, who had 12 points in the win over Roosevelt.
Even more efficiency: the Wildcats often outran the run-and-gun Rough Riders on Thursday, and among those benefitting on the break were their bigs — Celena Jane Molina and Victor.
The Lunas opted to not fullcourt press the Spartans in the other semifinal, a bit of a surprise. But Coach Todd Rickard preferred to keep his team out of foul trouble as much as possible, and it was good move. Maryknoll probably would’ve landed in the bonus early in each half if not for Rickard’s tactical move.
Playing tough man defense in the halfcourt, Lahainaluna still dominated and opened a 43-15 lead. It’s the kind of aggressive, physical defense that Konawaena plays, but the Wildcats get the edge offensively. Their IQ as a team is unmatched. Rarely do they commit unforced turnovers, and making the easy, extra bounce pass is a major part of their efficiency.
The Lunas can be overly aggressive at times, settling for OK shots rather than easy ones, and yet they dominate teams anyway.
X Factor: Can Fernandez stay out of foul trouble? Most of her five fouls against Maryknoll were avoidable; the lack of control, blasting into a defender while passing in mid-air instead of stopping to make an easy bounce pass. If she stays on the floor, Lahainaluna has its anchor, someone to attack the rim while the bigs do their work and the guards spread the floor. They can win because of Hafoka’s scoring ability, but to get Konawaena on its heels, the Lunas are better off with Fernandez attacking the bucket under control.
X Factor 2: Can freshman PG Cherilyn Molina withstand the defensive pressure of Lahainaluna? She’s been tested near and far, in island tournaments and mainland tournaments, played boys and girls. The youngest of the Molina sisters has shown a few moments of youth this week, but most of the time, she has been superb. Another test waits tonight.
X Factor 3: Matafolau Hafoka arose with 11 points and 15 boards in the win over Maryknoll. Between Koli and Falau Hafoka, it’s going to be a heady, physical matchup inside against Konawaena’s Victor and Celena Jane Molina.
X Factor 4: The Lunas were 8-for-9 at the free-throw line against Radford, but only two players took charity shots: Fiamea Hofoka and Folau Hafoka. Against Maryknoll, the Lunas were 10-for-23.
Pupule says: The Lunas are tall, fast and as spunky as ever. Rickard has this team operating above the speed limit, which is one of the trademarks of this illustrious MIL program. But they’ll struggle against the versatile Wildcats if they don’t make good decisions on both ends. And making good decisions requires self-control.
They opted not to press against Maryknoll, and when the Spartans put their own fullcourt press on the Lunas in the final minutes, Lahainaluna had a string of miscues. Nineteen turnovers. Physically, the Lunas are capable. In terms of experience and poise, this is their biggest test of the season. By far.
Konawaena already has that poise. But this group has yet to win a state title; the last one came in 2012, when Lia Galdeira and Dawnyelle Awa were closing out their prep careers. Chanelle Molina was a freshman in ’13 when the Wildcats lost to Kamehameha in the finals. Still, the edge in terms of execution and control is with Konawaena.
This may be an epic matchup. We can only hope it turns out to be an epic battle. Sometimes, it doesn’t happen that way when we most expect it.
Pupule pick: Wildcats 51, Lunas 41. A close game for 30 minutes, but in the final 120 seconds, the edge at the foul line goes to the Wildcats.