‘Iolani, Konawaena and the art of adaptation

Jovi Lefotu was a freshman and sophomore when ‘Iolani won back-to-back state titles in 2019 and '20. She can add '22 to her list, as well as all-tournament most outstanding player. Paul Honda/phonda@staradvertiser.com.

There was a point during the first half of the ‘Iolani-Campbell semifinal game when Dean Young was despondent. Head bowed, hands on his forehead while sitting on the bench. Processing.

“I was thinking, can we stop putting them on the free-throw line? Over and over and over again. It was frustrating,” Young said after the Raiders’ 54-39 win. “It just kills the flow of the game to blow the whistle so many times.”

It was a game-long grind against a Sabers squad that plays an active, physical man-to-man defense. It was Campbell that finished with two players disqualified for personal fouls, not ‘Iolani.

In fact, the Raiders took advantage of opportunities by sending Jaety Mandaquit and Jovi Lefotu to the low post for high-percentage shots. Each finished with 16 points. Lefotu tallied eight rebounds as the Raiders advanced to the final of the Heide & Cook/HHSAA Girls Basketball State Championships.

“We look for those mismatches for Jovi and Jaety to get to the block,” Young said.

Mandaquit is 5 feet, 6 inches now, but as younger hoopster, she was the biggest player on her team back in Hilo.

“I’m not the tallest, but I just try to use what advantage is given to me and do my best to help my team out,” the sophomore said. “Growing up I was always bigger than the boys so I had to work on my post moves and that’s translating now. I always went to my left. I always feel comfortable going to my left.”

‘Iolani hammered Campbell during nonconference play, 59-27, with Lefotu recovering from an injury. Young came away from that game very impressed with the Sabers.

“We told the coach, wow, you guys are going to be in the state tournament. You guys are doing to do super well in the OIA, and sure enough. You know, I was voting them Top 10, I was the only person voting for them back in preseason,” Young said. “I was there. I saw it. They’re well coached.”

‘Iolani and Konawaena met for the state title in 2020, a game won by the Raiders, who repeated.

“They’re going to be a handful, absolutely a handful, I can tell you that. They have four returning starters from the last state championship game. We don’t even have four returning players from the last time we played them,” Young noted. “They have experience on their side. They have their two seniors, shooters that are so tough to guard. They might be the favorite with that much experience.”

Lefotu was a sophomore in that ’20 final.

“I’m exciting to play them, excited to see them again. We’re excited for the game,” she said. “

Konawaena’s fairly new wrinkle is a matchup zone defense that annoys defenders to no end. The Wildcats make enough on-ball contact to trigger ball handlers who may lack some confidence. The contact isn’t usually enough, however, to warrant a whistle. Much like ‘Iolani’s defensive intensity and physicality, the Wildcats thrive with this defensive weapon.

Juliana Losalio-Watson has been effective as a swarming defender in the paint, in extended halfcourt pressure, blocking 3-pointers, banging opposing bigs in the paint. She had eight rebounds against Lahainaluna.

“I’m pretty important on defense. I make sure I talk and communicate with my teammates, make sure we’re on the same page and just make sure we lock it down,” the rangy senior said.

Konawaena seniors Kaliana Salazar-Harrell and Juliana Losalio-Watson joke around off the court, but defense is their mission on the court. Paul Honda/phonda@staradvertiser.com.

Kaliana Salazar-Harrell has been stupendous in Konawaena’s two wins, scoring 24 points with three steals against Mililani, and dominating against Lahainaluna with 27 points and three more steals.

“It’s going to be a tough competition. We just have to be ready and play as a team, go out there and work hard,” Salazar-Harrell said.

“Going against ‘Iolani, it’s not a new thing that they’re fast,” Losalio-Watson said. “They have good players on their team. We just have to lock down and make sure we play our own game.”

The team survey continued. Kayla Pak, who is instrumental in nearly every facet of Konawaena’s success — she had eight points and two steals in the win over Lahainaluna — agreed with Salazar-Harrell about one important, vital question: who is the funniest Wildcat?

“I would say Braelyn Kauhi,” Pak said.

“She is funny,” Losalio-Watson added.

Everyone agrees the smartest Wildcat is Pak, who has a 4.1 grade-point average.

Losalio-Watson agreed with Kauhi and Salazar-Harrell that Rebekah Fong is mostly likely teammate to coach one day.

“Yeah, maybe. It’s a dream right now,” Fong said.


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