More than maybe any year in the past two decades, the 2020 Snapple/HHSAA Girls Basketball State Championships is about the youth brigades.
From Konawaena to Kahuku, underclassmen have filled the void. Kahuku learned on Friday night that they’re close to the promised land. A 56-39 loss to perennial powerhouse Konawaena put an end to a remarkable run that began on the last day of preseason — a win over OIA West powerhouse Radford — and into the state tourney with a stunning win over No. 3-ranked Maryknoll.
With a semifinal win, Kahuku would have been the first OIA team to reach the final since 2006, when Roosevelt lost to Punahou.
The strong, quick Lady Raiders dominated the paint for two months, often doubling the rebound totals of their opponents. That happened in the OIA semifinals and finals. Konawaena, with crafty senior Caiyle Kaupu in the paint, put on a clinic with an array of turnaround jump hooks, shimmy moves, drop steps and up-and-unders. Coach Latoya Wily and her team shed tears after the game, but remain optimistic.
“I’m just proud of the girls, to bring the program this far. In four seasons, we were able to raise the bar for the next group,” Wily said. “I told those who are returning, if you really want to win that state championship, it starts in the offseason. You’ve got to touch a basketball as much as you can, even if you’re playing other sports.”
Kaupu’s treachery in the trenches was not the game plan, of course, for Kahuku. They wanted to front her, but the defensive machinery was not in sync.
“I felt like everything just consumed them and for the first time, they couldn’t hear us,” Wily said. “It hurts for all of us. It hurts for our seniors, but also (juniors) Leiah (Naeata) and Maya (Claytor), the ones who play basketball (year round). I was glad to see some fire in the eyes of Mary (Fonoimoana) and Kalamela (Liua). They’re volleyball players. They’re motivated to be true dual sport players. That’s what we had back in the days.”
With that, the former Kahuku standout exited the back door and joined the large gathering of loyal fans near the parking lot. Win or lose, this remains Red Raider nation.