Final girls hoops ballot in year of young guns

The Konawaena Wildcats took home an eighth girls basketball Division I state championship trophy on Saturday. Photo by Paul Honda/Star-Advertiser
The Konawaena Wildcats took home an eighth girls basketball Division I state championship trophy on Saturday. Photo by Paul Honda/Star-Advertiser

Anti-climatic, sure. Polls at the high school level are more like whipped cream than anything nutritious.

But for voters, there are mini dilemmas. Konawaena’s win over Maryknoll in a thriller of a state-championship game makes the top spot on a ballot easy to pick. But what about the likes of ‘Iolani, which lost to Kamehameha, a state semifinalist, by just three points in an ILH playoff game. And ‘Iolani had only seven players in uniform.

What about Mililani, which won most of its state-tourney games? Which matters more: state-tournament consolation games or OIA playoff games? I ask because the Lady Trojans played strong, but didn’t reach the OIA finals, while Farrington and Kaimuki did.

And Kaimuki, which reached the OIA finals and gave Farrington a good battle, beat Nanakuli in its opening-round game at states, then was routed by ILH champion Maryknoll. And then key player Victoria Kintz (concussion) didn’t play in the consolation loss.

Pupule ballot 2/6/17
1. Konawaena Wildcats (27-3, 10-0 BIIF)
Epilogue: If the Wildcats were a vegetable, they would be broccoli. Versatile, nutritious and sturdy, tough but not too hard. If they were a tree, redwood. The roots probe deep beneath the earth and intertwine out of eyesight, becoming stronger and impossible to topple by the forces of nature. If they were an animal, they would be dolphins, always working together, frolicking when not hunting, and impossible to kill, even by sharks.

What they really are, though, are orcas. Playful and powerful, but come feeding time, nobody is higher on the food chain. You just don’t walk into any gym or arena and beat Coach Bobbie Awa’s teams with sheer strength and size and athleticism. Maryknoll came very close, but in the end, there is just too much trust on the Konawaena sideline, the result of years of work together. So many reps, so much teamwork, and very little need to burn early time outs. They keep things simple (halfcourt man-to-man defense) and balanced (motion offense with a lot of swing action and off-ball screens.

With eight state championships in the past 14 seasons, this was a first for Konawaena: three consecutive state crowns. They did it with eight players, all playing important and sometimes multiple roles. Awa says every title is different, and this is true once again. The future is bright, even with the graduation of multi-faceted wing/post/slasher/3-point bomber/rim protector/octopus-armed wing defender Celena Jane Molina.

In the Year 2018: Replacing a near-6 foot defender who can cover the 3-point line and low post with equal excellence doesn’t really happen. But the emergence of freshman Caiyle Kaupu, younger sister of former standout Courtney Kaupu, means the Wildcats will have the state’s best defensive backcourt, Cherilyn Molina and Mikayla Tablit, and an elite low-post scorer next season. If Tanniya Uchida, the baby-faced slayer from long distance, continues to emerge, the Wildcats’ blueprint will remain intact.

Sumo rank: Yokozuna. The Chiyonofuji of grand champions. Strong, though not the biggest. Tough, enduring through injuries. Smart, always outwitting taller foes. Quick and explosive, a different level.

2. Maryknoll Spartans (28-3, 13-1 ILH)
Epilogue: On paper, still a relatively young team. But they have experience, and now they can add another ILH title (three in three seasons) and another state runner-up finish (two) to the resume. The idea that a new gym with a rejuvenated program — which got its start with the group that played for then-coach Steve Caley — would accelerate the championship process with a successful, veteran coach. Chico Furtado, a longtime counselor on campus, was finally on the bench for the Spartans. The three years since have been remarkable. Despite the sub-par shooting from the foul line against Konawaena (10-for-19), the Lady Spartans still had their opportunities to beat the dynastic Wildcats.

But they didn’t get there, and until Maryknoll can plant its glorious maroon and gold flag atop the mountain, it’s not quite dynasty time. Maybe as an ILH powerhouse, yes. But this year would’ve been a great time for Maryknoll to establish that status as conqueror. Can a team be a dynasty without winning the whole shebang? That’s up for debate.

In the Year 2018: There’s this, of course — next season will the senior year for just about every current Spartan, the group that entered the program as ninth-grade phenoms and phenols-in-making. Having all that weight in one graduating class makes Maryknoll a favorite, at least on paper, but also puts some pressure on the post-2018 Spartans. If each of the key juniors increases her efficiency and productivity by 5 or 10 percent, who will stop the run to a state title? Rhianne Omori, Chayse Milne, Isabella Cravens, Kodee Viena, Moe Notoa, Ysabelle Halemano, Kehau Gilliland… after ’18, Furtado will still have Kamakawiwo‘ole and Sisilia Kaufusi.

Sumo rank: Yokozuna.

3. Kamehameha Warriors (21-6, 9-5 ILH)
Epilogue: If Konawaena and Maryknoll were No. 1 and No. 1a this season, Kamehameha was a solid No. 2 in my pupule perspective. After each loss, the Warriors learned and grew, went back and beat those teams. Punahou. ‘Iolani. Maryknoll. The Warriors separated themselves from most contenders, knocking out Farrington 52-47 with clutch shooting by senior Mikiala Maio and junior Kiana Vierra. The bar, though, was set by Maryknoll and Konawaena this season, and in two short seasons, Coach Joe Cho and his Warriors are thisclose.

In the Year 2018: Seven seniors will graduate, including Maio. The returning core led by Kalina Obrey, Jewel Paaluhi-Caulk and Vierra has a chance to upgrade to a new level this offseason. Maryknoll’s returning lineup is built on mostly basketball-first or basketball-only athletes. Kamehameha? Obrey plays volleyball, but considers — and always has since I’ve seen her play — basketball to be her one true game. Maryknoll might look ahead and rightfully consider Konawaena as the team to beat in ’18, but Kamehameha could move into the way.

Sumo rank: Ozeki.

4. Farrington Governors (16-5, 12-1 OIA)
Epilogue: A special season, indeed. The rise of Molimau Heimuli was a treat to see for fans everywhere. A center with guard skills, a wing with low-post strength, ambidextrous with her back to the bucket on the block. Clone her and five Moli Heimulis might be unbeatable. (So would five Shawna Kuehus and five Nani Cocketts, but let’s stay within 2016-17 for now.)

It wasn’t long ago that the Lady Governors were in Division II, rebuilding and ascending back into D-I. Aside from Heimuli and fellow senior Naomi Peltier, the roster is 5-foot-7 and under. The progress the Govs made under Coach Caroline Tatupu was remarkable, winning an OIA D-I title, pushing Kamehameha hard in the state quarterfinal round. The Govs were one play away from at least forcing overtime against the Warriors, and that’s part of the growth curve. It was an amazing ride.

In the Year 2018: Replacing versatile Chantal Mailou, Shanaiah Paleafei, Peltier and Heimuli seems impossible. Sophomore guard Shayla Cabato-Machado emerged as a reliable, strong court general. Kyle Carganilla, a softball-first athlete, became a deadly 3-point shooter. How much can the returning Governors improve by next season?

Sumo rank: Ozeki.

5. Lahainaluna Lunas (20-4, 14-0 MIL)
Epilogue: A season of success in the MIL, and mixed results at the state tourney. The Lady Lunas can only wonder what could’ve been. Hot sharpshooter Braenna Estabillo left the game against Maryknoll with her team down 21-20 in the second quarter. Maryknoll’s fullcourt press triggered an 8-0 run, and when Estabillo returned, she promptly collided with the Spartans’ Moe Notoa, and both suffered head injuries, and neither returned.

In the Year 2018: The Lunas will lose just one senior, the tireless Lisa Hafoka. With Estabillo and long-range gunner Rachael Balagson, floor general Keiko Aotaki, and tough-nosed freshman wing Susi Namoa, the building blocks for another MIL title are there. Coach Todd Rickard’s team will be one year older and more seasoned.

Sumo rank: Ozeki.

6. ‘Iolani Raiders (12-8, 7-6 ILH)
Epilogue: If you can name a team that beat former national champion Salesian (Calif.) and gave then-No. 9 Long Beach Poly (Calif.) a tough battle before losing, then you probably know how well the Raiders were playing in December. But the long season is about resilience and endurance, and attrition took its toll on the Raiders at the worst possible time.

So let’s dwell on the magnificent, utterly beautiful basketball played by One Team this season. I’ve got probably three or four games worth of video footage, still untouched, in the hard-drive bank. When I get to those highlights, it’ll be much easier to remember the early-season peak and the beauty of what well-honed skills, ball movement and fast-breaking hoops can do for a team that had virtually no height or size.

In the Year 2018: Camy Aguinaldo will graduate. So will Emily Nomura and Kelsi Ikdea. So will stretch 5 Skylar Nakata. Tori Lynn Maeda will be back to run the point. Kawai Kahalehoe (knee) will also, hopefully, be back at full strength. Taylor Wu, who was wowsome with 18 points off the bench in the playoff loss to Kamehameha, could tear it up next season. We shall see.

Sumo rank: Ozeki.

7. Kaimuki Bulldogs (16-11, 11-2 OIA)
Epilogue: When it mattered most, Kaimuki did beat Mililani (44-41). That was in the OIA playoffs. Then the Bulldogs lost in consolation play against the Lady Trojans as Kintz sat out with her injury. In all, it was a legacy-building season for the ‘Dogs, who had won the previous two OIA D-II titles. The road from D-II championship to D-I finals is not occupied by many. Kalaheo boys pulled off titles in both during the coaching reign of Alika Smith.

Kaimuki’s lack of depth and size caught up in the late season. Fatigue was clearly a factor as 3-point shots that rained in — as many as 10 in big late-season wins — started to fall short. Kintz was a symbol of the all-in mentality of this team, typical of Coach Mona Fa‘asoa’s teams. But the old saying is, live by the sword, die by the sword, and until one of Kaimuki’s low-post players develops year-round and becomes a dominant scorer, the Bulldogs will remain a one-dimensional team on offense. Nothing wrong with that. It took them to the OIA title game.

In the Year 2018: Long-range gunners Kaelyn Espinda, Sonia Palik and Sirena Titer will return. Espinda’s ability to run the point, attack the rim, knock down free throws and 3-pointers make her one of the best guards in the state. If Palik and Titer become more versatile and Peka Scott continues to improve, the Bulldogs have four solid scorers next season. Replacing a combo guard with the willingness to defend in the paint — Kintz did the work of two positions simultaneously every night — won’t be easy. Fa‘asoa keeps the gym open all summer. It’ll be up to her young players to put the work in.

Sumo rank: Sekiwake.

8. Mililani Trojans (18-8, 10-3 OIA)
Epilogue: The most overachieving team in the state? That might be the right description here. Coach Patrick Basilio’s team didn’t have a dominant post or guard. They weren’t extremely smooth with the ball and often had scoring droughts. However, no team consistently scrapped for every loose ball and ran the floor more. This is a program that has been hit by adversity in the past — Shantel Appleby’s injuries can only make fans wonder, what if — but the result has been that the Trojans rely on everyone to step on the court and make an impact with hustle and grit. That’s not something to be taken for granted.

In the Year 2018: Sharpshooter Kayla Torres and hustling post Hope Carter will graduate, but the rest of the roster are underclassmen. Torres and Carter should be proud of what they accomplished as the elder stateswomen of the team. Their legacy should be felt in the years to come. Again, this group went farther than any other team I can think of with this much youth and inexperience. Freshman guard Dahlis Sablay had some superb moments, and young posts Kalena Gibson and Janae Ritchie have a lot of potential. So did 6-2 center Cheyenne Ardona. We’ll see soon enough if this group will push hard in the offseason and take the program farther than it did in ’17.

Sumo rank: Sekiwake.

9. Mid-Pacific Owls (17-3, 11-0 ILH D-II)
Epilogue: By season’s end, the Owls were the hottest team in the state, regardless of division. No, they weren’t ready to beat Konawaena or Maryknoll, but their transition game, ball movement, unselfishness and skill level on the perimeter were mind-boggling for a D-II team. Coach Sherice Ajifu says the time is right for a bump up to D-I, but adds that the decision isn’t hers to make. The Owls went unbeaten in ILH D-II, pummeling both D-II and D-III teams even while trying to mercifully slow the tempo. MPI toasted foes at the D-II state tourney, beating Damien by 52, Kalani by 28 and Kamehameha-Hawaii by 25. Yes, this is a Division 1.5 program, and no, there’s little chance the Owls win the ILH in D-I if that happens next season. But would they compete against Maryknoll, Kamehameha, ‘Iolani, Punahou and Sacred Hearts? Definitely.

In the Year 2018: Point guard Harley Simon will graduate. The Owls will miss her court leadership, toughness (she returned after a major collision in the D-II state title game and finished with 22 points) and experience. But the rest of the roster will be back, and this is a fairly common theme statewide at the D-I level. Ciera Kameehonua (25 points against KS-Hawaii) will return. So will Brilie Kovaloff (25.5 points per game in the state quarterfinals and semifinals). So will center Paige Fahrni, who is just a freshman. I would not, not ever, never wish this team against any D-II or D-III team next season.

Sumo rank: Komusubi.

10. Kamehameha-Maui Warriors (11-6, 10-4 MIL)
Epilogue: While the once-formidable program at Baldwin continues to sputter, while the once-competitive Maui program drifts, Kamehameha-Maui has stepped up to provide some kind of competition for Goliath Lahainaluna. Unlike Hilo, which hosted an opening-round state-tourney game and lost, KS-Maui edged Leilehua. The Warriors are another team that is junior-heavy, has no seniors, and though they lost to Konawaena and Farrington later, showed enough talent and promise to make things interesting in ’18. With even MIL D-II in a downswing on the talent cycle, the league should be a showcase for Lahainaluna and KS-Maui at least for the next year and more.

I started voting for KS-Maui, despite the lack of preseason fare, after the Warriors’ (relatively) close loss to Lahainaluna. They never proved me wrong all season.

In the Year 2018: Leading scorers Ashley Peralta, Kaylee Cambra and Kimani Fernandez-Roy are juniors. Promising center Angel Pauole, a 6-footer, is only a freshman.

Sumo rank: Komusubi.

On the cusp (no particular order)
Leilehua Mules (15-12, 10-3 OIA)
Epilogue: After a early loss to Radford, the Lady Mules won nine in a row out West, challenged only by Mililani and Kapolei. Then came a playoff loss to Farrington, and then a consolation loss to rival Mililani. Interestingly, Mililani wound up flying to Hilo — a team Leilehua had beaten during preseason — and winning that state-tourney opener. The Mules flew to Upcountry Maui and lost at Kamehameha-Maui, 33-31.

In the Year 2018: Gone to graduation will be center Abigail Flores, sharpshooter Shaylee Todani, tough-nosed Chyel Palmer and two other seniors. Coach Elroy Dumlao will have some interesting, athletic pieces back in ’18, including sophomore jump shooter Kaylen Kamelamela and speedy freshman Kimberley Owens.

Sumo rank: Komusubi.

Punahou Buffanblu (10-10, 5-9 ILH
Epilogue: Still talented enough to be a Top 10 team, but it was a battle of attrition for a team that lost its coach at midseason and has had four head coaches in five seasons.
Sumo rank: Komusubi.

Hilo Vikings (16-3, 10-2 BIIF)
Episode: A superb season that included narrow wins (46-45, 40-39) over rival Waiakea in the final two weeks ended abruptly with a home loss to Mililani in the state tournament. It was a toss-up game, for sure, but Mililani’s level of experience year after year probably helped. Hilo had already beaten Leilehua in preseason, a team that beat Mililani during the OIA West season. So, this year’s Vikings never got to play on Oahu in the big dance.

In the Year 2018: Hilo will lose three seniors — Sharry Pagan, Cherish Quiocho and Chenoa Rogers — but will return some key scorers like Asia Castillo (sophomore), Mandi Kawaha (junior) and Mindy Kawaha (freshman). Freshman Jamila Collins Ebanaez also shows a lot of potential.

Sumo rank: Maegashira.

Kahuku Red Raiders (10-5, 10-4 OIA)
Epilogue: A solid first season at the helm for former Red Raiders standout Latoya Wily. She is determined to get her young players into a year-round mindset and turn the girls hoops program into one that sends players to the next level, much as she did during her playing career.

In the Year 2018: Leading scorers Brittni Blake, Savanna Christensen and Logotaeao Galeai will graduate. There’s a strong similarity between the type of athletes that Kahuku has with the ones at Lahainaluna. The difference? The Lunas have the West Maui Menehune hoops youth program feeding talent into the high school campus. Volleyball is a major sport at Kahuku, but there’s room to develop five to 10 (or more) basketball players at each grade level at the youth level.

Sumo rank: Maegashira.

Nanakuli Golden Hawks (13-8, 10-4 OIA)
Epilogue: The West season was solid for the team from the Valley, but then came losses to Farrington and Kahuku in the playoffs, and then a state-tourney loss at Kaimuki. The Hawks proved that they can compete at the D-I level and more. Alana Nuuanu had a stellar senior season, becoming one of the best pull-up 3-point shooters in the league. But the team’s overall shooting skill level is still not up to par — 50 percent at the free-throw line — and that can be fixed.

In the Year 2018: Many of the Golden Hawks play multiple sports, which is the case at most smaller schools. Nuuanu will graduate, as will five other Hawks including gunner Trisdyn Kalaau. Kalei Cates showed some dynamic possibilities with her 5-9 frame and long-range shooting. The Hawks pass the eye test on an athletic level and with those long-range shooters, look like a team on the brink of doing something special. The long history of smaller schools, though, is that there just aren’t enough players who touch a basketball 12 months out of the year. Next season could be a step back unless the Hawks get as serious about skills as the state’s best — Konawaena, Maryknoll, Kamehameha, Lahainaluna, ‘Iolani.

Sumo rank: Maegashira.

Running out of time here with the OIA boys basketball playoffs this afternoon. I’ll add the teams that were interesting and competitive below along with my sumo ranking for each. To read about my perspective on these teams, go back to previous ballot stories.

Kaiser Cougars (9-13, 7-4)
Epilogue: Vast improvement over the season, testament to the team’s work ethic.
Sumo rank: Maegashira.

Radford Rams (11-7, 9-4 OIA)
Epilogue: The midseason injury to much-improved center Shaelie Burgess was a tough blow.
Sumo rank: Maegashira.

Campbell Sabers (13-8, 8-5 OIA)
Epilogue: Signature win of the season was probably an upset over Mililani.
Sumo rank: Maegashira.

Kalani Falcons (16-9, 9-3 OIA)
Epilogue: A solid season with all the spacing their shooters needed, and just enough rebounding to provide a run to the OIA D-II title. Playing against D-I teams in OIA regular-season action was a big plus.
Sumo rank: Maegashira.

Sacred Hearts (7-15, 0-3 ILH)
Epilogue: Another Division 1.5 team. If and when D-III comes along one day at the state level, the Lancers will find their true home in D-II. SHA beat Hawaii Baptist by 15 in preseason.
Sumo rank: Maegashira.

St. Francis Saints (15-4, 10-1 ILH D-II)
Epilogue: Talented frontcourt. They could pound inside as good as most D-I teams, but the lack of ballhandling skills against fullcourt pressure was a major minus. Center Olivia Sagapulutele will graduate.
Sumo rank: Maegasshira.

Hawaii Baptist Eagles (19-5, 9-2 ILH D-II)
Epilogue: After years of reigning in ILH D-II, the Eagles may find that adapting and evolving will be necessary to return to the top, both in the ILH and in the state. MPI may move up to D-I, but St. Francis likely stays put with its small-school brethren.
Sumo rank: Maegasshira.

Moanalua Na Menehune (12-13, 7-6)
Epilogue: Scrappy team with enough scoring to compete against most teams. They reached the OIA D-II final before losing to Kalani.
Sumo rank: Maegashira.

‘Iolani II (13-1, 11-0 ILH D-IAA)
Epilogue: The only blemish is a double-digit loss to HBA.
Sumo rank: Maegashira.

Waiakea Warriors (14-4, 8-3 BIIF)
Epilogue: Gave Konawaena its toughest in-state game other than the Wildcats’ title game against Maryknoll. But the Warriors weren’t able to solve the Hilo Vikings puzzle.
Sumo rank: Maegashira.

Kamehameha-Hawaii Warriors (16-7, 9-3 BIIF)
Epilogue: Reached the D-II state finals.
Sumo rank: Maegashira.

Baldwin Bears (3-11 MIL)
Sumo rank: Juryo.

Seabury Hall Spartans (7-4, 7-2 MIL D-II)
Sumo rank: Juryo.

Kauai Red Raiders (6-3 KIF)
Epilogue: Taegan Keep, a 6-3 junior, averaged 11 points and 10 rebounds per game in three D-II state-tourney games.
Sumo rank: Juryo.

Mid-Pacific guard Harley Simon wrestled the ball away from Kamehameha-Hawaii guard Jordyn Mantz in the Division II state final. Photo by Jamm Aquino/Star-Advertiser.
Mid-Pacific guard Harley Simon wrestled the ball away from Kamehameha-Hawaii guard Jordyn Mantz in the Division II state final. Photo by Jamm Aquino/Star-Advertiser.


  1. ballerz February 7, 2017 8:46 pm

    nice work and ranking. congrats to konawaena.

  2. The Watcher February 7, 2017 9:14 pm

    1. Dahlis Sablay may return to Maryknoll and sit out the year. We shall see.

    2. Where will 8th grade phenom Lily Wahinekapu go to? Punahou, Iolani, KS, MPI, SHA, and Maryknoll have all shown interest.

    3. Will Jalen Tanuvasa (Jordan’s not so little sister) play at Maryknoll or St. Francis? Yes, she’s good like her brother.

    4. Expect Mid Pacific to move up to Division 1 next year.

    5. Kuehu has been named the permanent coach at Punahou.

  3. ALL EYES ON ME February 8, 2017 10:44 am

    Lily Wahinekapu is from Holy Family School …little sister Jovi (7th gr) also from Holy Family plus 8th grade phenom Imani Wyatt and Kaily Kupau Also from Holy Family plus 7th grade phenom Cadee Paulos also Holy Family …might all jump ship next year to some lucky school that will be winning the lottery…stay tuned (FYI) all this girls play for Storm Basketball Club.

    Who will be the lucky winner: KS, PUNS, IOLANI, MARYKNOLL ?…..TIME TO GO SHOPPING ILH COACHES

  4. Education First February 8, 2017 2:00 pm

    I am biased since Lily and Jovi are my nieces. Lily is really good. Jovi is an up and comer. Hopefully my two nieces will have the opportunity to play for a wonderful school. I prefer Punahou due to their great academics. But the coaching there is killing me.

  5. Education First February 9, 2017 9:15 am

    In the consolation game between Mililani and Kaimuki, Mililani’s PG Dahlis Sablay also didn’t play. It might be nice to mention that both teams were missing stellar players. Sablay is very good.

  6. Jasmine Sablay February 18, 2017 6:01 pm

    Dahlis Sablay will not be returning to MaryKnoll, Dahlis will be staying at Mililani. Also if Dahlis would return to MaryKnoll Dahlis will not need to sit out, due to she is returning to her home Private School, if she was to go to another private school then she would need to sit out.

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