Girls Hoops State Preview: Konawaena leads seeded squads

(Here’s an extended look at the seeded teams in this week’s Hawaiian Airlines/HHSAA Girls Basketball State Championships. See previews for today’s opening-round games (unseeded teams) here on the Star-Advertiser premium site.)

The future is bright for Konawaena.

They’re almost perfect, really.

The Konawaena Wildcats have taken much of the drama out of the script as the Hawaiian Airlines/HHSAA Girls Basketball State Championships tip off today. Ranked No. 1 all year, beating nationally ranked teams like Brea Olinda (Calif.) and yet another unbeaten season in the Big Island Interscholastic Federation.

Yet even with a 49-0 record in the four years that Dawnyelle Awa and Lia Galdeira have paired up to dominate the BIIF, nobody in the Wildcats camp is taking anything for granted.

It was two years ago when the ‘Cats were coming off a state title. Galdeira and Awa were primed for a run of four state titles in four years. Then Lahainaluna put that dream to rest, upsetting Konawaena in the state final.

Konawaena (23-3, 11-0 league this season) hasn’t lost to a team from Hawaii since. In fact, the Wildcats have wreaked havoc on all local opposition. Coach Bobbie Awa’s team has been on a mission, always loaded with energy, intensity and, well, Awa and Galdeira.

The two are heading to Washington State next season, where their uptempo style and defensive prowess will fit in well. For now, the top-seeded Wildcats are as overwhelming a favorite as any team in recent memory in a state tourney.

Second-seeded ‘Iolani (17-3, 11-1 ILH), third seed Lahainaluna (24-3, 14-0 MIL) and fourth seed Pearl City (18-5, 13-2 OIA) have the ingredients to reach the final, but none have displayed the element that the Lady Lunas had two years ago in the upset of Konawaena: a go-to scorer. Current Gonzaga guard Maiki Viela was part of the 1-2 combo along with current Indiana post Milika Taufa.

That could change this week.

In Division II, fans have wondered aloud about the brackets that have given two teams, top-seeded Radford (8-4 OIA White) and unseeded Kalani, homecourt advantage. The HHSAA noted that sites were determined well in advance and that flipping brackets to neutralize homecourt edge was not considered seriously.

Kamehameha-Hawaii, the second seed, may face Kalani in the quarterfinal if the Falcons got past Hawaii Baptist on Tuesday. That bracket is on Kalani’s homecourt.

“It’s evident and inevitable that neighbor island teams will always be at a disadvantage. But when you’re faced with having games played at your opponent’s home court, it makes competing even tougher,” KS-Hawaii coach Garrett Arima said. “We can’t change the tournament format nor do we have control over seedings or opponents. We can only control what we do to prepare for battle.”

Another issue was seeding, with Radford getting the No. 1 spot plus hosting a quarterfinal game.

“I thought that since we beat Radford four weeks ago in head to head (nonconference) that we were more deserving,” said Maryknoll coach Steve Caley, whose Spartans were unbeaten in league play. “Still, we don’t really care who we play. We have aspirations for a state title and if we are truly the best team, we should beat whomever we are matched up with.”

Maryknoll (19-6, 13-0 ILH D-II) has the third seed and Kauai (9-0 KIF) is the fourth seed.

Here’s a look at the seeded teams in Divisions I and II. All eight have byes through today’s opening round.

Division I

No. 1 seed: Konawaena

On paper: The Wildcats (23-3 overall this year, 107-8 overall in four years) were good enough to win two of the past three state titles with a younger team. Now, as seasoned hoopsters, the precision and sense of urgency are impeccable, or at least they were during the ‘Iolani Classic. The ‘Cats beat three mainland teams, including Brea Olinda, en route to that title.

The skinny: Defense has always been a hallmark of coach Bobbie Hanato’s teams. With four titles in the past eight years, only Punahou has matched that success, and the Buffanblu did not qualify for the state tourney. This Konawaena squad has a chance to write some new history, and they know it.

While Galdeira continues to play at a higher level on both ends — she averaged 24 points per game in last weekend’s BIIF playoffs — Awa’s court vision and passing skills are special. Galdeira doesn’t look to dominate offensively, which allows Awa to find open cutters like Makayla Awa and Courtney Kaupu.

Makayla, Dawnyelle’s cousin, is especially effective in transition. Kaupu, at 5-foot-9, is quick and physical, an adept shooter with either hand in the low post.

X factor: With only nine players in uniform during nonconference play, role players like sophomore Keahelaumakani Wall and junior Hoku Liftee are especially valuable. The lack of depth makes Konawaena as vulnerable as any title contender should an injury come the ‘Cats’ way.

No. 2 seed: ‘Iolani 

On paper: The Raiders are 17-3 overall and went 11-1 in the Interscholastic League of Honolulu using a platoon system and fullcourt press much of the time. Coach Eddie Maruyama’s squad may be the freshest in the tourney after finishing regular-season play on Jan. 28 — a loss to Punahou that had no bearing on the league standings.

The skinny: BYU-bound guard Kylie Maeda is the glue to the Raiders’ offense, effective in uptempo and delay schemes. However, the run-and-gun Raiders showed some inconsistency in protecting large leads this season.

Guard Saphyre Rezentes, a junior, is one of the toughest one-on-one scorers in the islands. Low posts Jade Botelho (5-foot-10), Taimane Passi (5-11) and Alyssa Liilii (5-8) are young, but seasoned. Botelho is capable of five to six steals out of ‘Iolani’s halfcourt man and fullcourt traps.

X factor: Since losing starting post Alex Masaquel to a season-ending leg injury, the Raiders have continued to prosper. Losing her experience, however, will be a true test this week. Guard Katie Tom, a zone-busting sharpshooter, has stepped up in the second half of the season.

No. 3 seed: Lahainaluna

On paper: The Lady Lunas (24-3, 14-0 Maui Interscholastic League) are somewhat of a mystery since graduating Viela last season. Coach Todd Rickard has relied on a core of experienced players to share the scoring load as the Lunas completed their fifth consecutive MIL season — 73 league wins in a row.

Since losing to Mid-Pacific at the Wildcat Classic on Nov. 19, they have yet to lose a game, wiping out MIL competition.

The skinny: Rickard, who helped build a pipeline of talent from the age-group Menehune program in Lahaina, is comfortable with or without that go-to scorer.

“The girls bought into the team concept, team defense, team offense,” he said early in the season. “I’m kind of pleased with where we’re at. We don’t have that player we can go to every time, but they’re all getting involved offensively and defensively.”

Jade Chihara, who had 19 points in a league tourney-clinching win over Maui, is as close as they get to a top scorer.

X factor: This will be the first time in years that the Lunas don’t have a dominant scorer. They may get through the quarterfinals and semifinals primarily on defensive pressure in what has been a season of young players and youthful mistakes across the state.

No. 4 seed: Pearl City 

On paper: It was a great way to end a coaching career for Mike Morton. The Chargers won their first-ever Oahu Interscholastic Association title, and Morton, after 11 years as head coach, did it his way.

Pearl City (18-5, 13-2 OIA) relied on Morton’s guile, and he relied on a savvy three-guard lineup that confused and frustrated most opponents. Sabrina Angle, Shawna Angle and Adrienne Jean Sylva will weave defenders over and over until they get an open layup for posts Tiari Walker or Dani Magana.

The skinny: Morton’s squad depending on a tough man-to-man defense for weeks before switching to a 2-3 matchup zone against Kaimuki on Saturday. The result was a 32-29 overtime win and gives the Chargers much more confidence defensively.

X factor: Like Konawaena, the Chargers are thin on the bench and can’t afford any injuries or foul trouble. When Magana went down against Kaimuki with a bruised knee, the Chargers held down the fort until she returned in the fourth quarter. Losing her for an extended time, though, would be dangerous to Pearl City’s state-title hopes.

Division II

No. 1 seed Radford

On paper: The Lady Rams went 8-4 in the OIA, among the best in the West during the regular season’s combined D-I and D-II slate. Then they went unblemished through the playoffs, winning more on grit and smarts than anything else.

That’s just fine with first-year head coach Brandy Richardson, who fuels her team constantly. Playing tonight’s quarterfinal game at home is something she’s wary of to an extent.

“If you’re coming in to play us at home, that might be more motivation for you,” she said. “It still depends on who shows up no matter where the game is.”

The skinny: Imani Wimbush is steady and aggressive in the paint, occasionally too aggressive. The 6-foot got into foul trouble in the last playoff game against McKinley, but Brittany Perry stepped up on the low post. Their combined athleticism and strength are plusses for a squad that has streak shooters in the backcourt.

When Rachael Kapesi is hitting her perimeter shot, Radford is very tough for most D-II teams to contain.

X factor: Freshman Kennedy Johnson, a 5-11 forward, is a valuable weapon.

No. 2 seed Kamehameha-Hawaii

On paper: Like Radford, the Warriors spent the regular season playing both D-I and D-II programs. Since topping then No. 7-ranked Waiakea on Jan. 18, they’ve continued a win streak that is up to nine wins in a row now. KS-Hawaii (24-6, 11-2 BIIF) count on clutch play from Chelsea Poe, Casey Poe and Keana Kaohimaunu. Casey Poe, a sophomore, had 16 points in a win over Honokaa for the BIIF D-II crown on Saturday.

The skinny: Coach Garrett Arima’s Warriors usually travel to Oahu for preseason tournaments, but ventured no further west than Maui this season. How a young team handles the travel aspect is key.

X factor: Was the comeback win against Honokaa a wake-up call or a sign that the Warriors are a bit green in pressurized, postseason situations?

No. 3 seed Maryknoll

On paper: The Spartans (19-6, 13-0 ILH) spent preseason rebuilding and finding a new identity without All-State guard Ashley Agcaoili, who graduated. After a string of early losses, they found their way with wins over Kalani and Farrington before the ILH season began. Then came a break for the St. Francis Merv Lopes Classic and a 33-24 win over Radford, which is the top seed this week.

The skinny: A year-round conditioning program has been a big boost for coach Steve Caley’s squad. Instead of taking a step back, they’ve found depth and toughness at a new level. Ashlee DeSantos and Cianna Ochoco are key parts of a guard-heavy unit.

X factor: Their only players taller than 5-7 are sophomore Maia Laboy (5-9) and freshman Maegen Martin (5-10). As the posts go, so will the Spartans.

No. 4 seed Kauai

On paper: The KIF champs got the nod over MIL champion Seabury Hall for the fourth and final seeded berth — and first-round bye. The reason might be as simple as this: Kristle Henry. The slashing guard made an impact last year at the Mufi Hannemann Jamboree and was later invited to play for the all-star Team Aloha squad.

The skinny: Henry has been a productive playmaker in the KIF, but she has help from Casey Anacleto and Kawehi Louis-Diamond. All three are accurate from the arc.

X factor: The Red Raiders have yet to be tested off-island by the state’s best D-II teams, but Henry’s explosiveness and scoring ability should be enough to carry Kauai at least to the semifinals.

Paul Honda, Star-Advertiser


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