Konawaena and the Art of Defense

Chanelle Molina rehabbed her way back from an ankle injury. She missed four weeks before returning for the BIIF title game last weekend.
Chanelle Molina rehabbed her way back from an ankle injury. She missed four weeks before returning for the BIIF title game last weekend.

In the ILH, scouting and preparation are the norm.

Girls basketball is a world of fun and a world of hurt whether teams are ready or not. But how to prepare for the state tournament, where the Konawaena Wildcats and Lahainaluna Lunas are the top two seeds?

Coach Bobbie Awa’s Wildcats made it look basic and amazingly efficient in another lopsided win over powerhouse Punahou last night, a 51-27 win at the OC-16/HHSAA Girls Basketball State Championships.

Punahou coach Liz Kam was cautious going into her team’s quarterfinal matchup with Konawaena. The Buffanblu went to a three-quarter press for a stint in the first half. Ultimately, they stuff their bread and butter, halfcourt man to man. But like many Konawaena opponents, the Buffanblu got caught leaning the wrong way often, and gave up backdoor layups. It’s the kind of pattern that Konawaena has established over the years, setting defenses up for perimeter action while the real action comes on an off-ball cut, bounce pass and success at the goal.

What makes Konawaena fans often delirious with glee is the way their team executes that patient, cut-oriented attack, all five players in unison and rhythm. With a thin bench, as usual, Awa’s team uses patience on offense, whether by design or not, as a way to rest their players. It’s on defense where the full exertion happens.

It begins with constant on-ball pressure. Chanelle Molina’s ankle is far from 100 percent, but she has rehabbed enough to be nimble and quick. She spent much of her time defensively helping and double-teaming whether it was on the wing or low post. She was, for Punahou’s playmakers, a nuisance. A terribly smart and persistent obstacle.

While Mikayla Tablit and Cherilyn Molina offered more of that distracting, deflecting on-ball defense, the point of Punahou’s attack is usually on the low post. But Konawaena limited Tyra Moe and Va‘e Malufau to nine total points. The eye test doesn’t really fit. Konawaena’s Mercedes Ihi Victor and Celena Jane Molina offer some height (5-10 to 6 feet), but girth is not what they have. What Victor and Molina have is constant feet in motion.

“For me, it’s trying to think one step ahead of them,” Victor said. “On the screen, I try to jump it. On the post, I try to bump them.”

They front, play the back, round the post target and they don’t stop. Celena Jane Molina spends large chunks of time guarding on the 3-point line as well as the low post. The long arms and springy, volleyball legs are invaluable to her team’s defensive versatility and effectiveness. After all these years of battling Punahou’s talented bigs, she never takes a play off.

“It’s still hard. It doesn’t get easier,” she said. “They’re way bigger than us.”

Tablit and Cherilyn Molina, the sophomore guards, had other things in mind.

“Coach said, ‘Don’t get distracted by the crowd,” Molina said.

“Before the game, I was really nervous,” Tablit said. “But we got in our tempo. We blocked out and we tried not to let their guards get in the middle.”

All this on a night when returning all-state player of the year Chanelle Molina scored an almost ordinary nine points. She picked her spots, didn’t always crash the boards, where her vertical leap is normally a major weapon. On a slightly gimpy ankle, she opted to do what she could. She was, as she said after the game, a contributor.

Next up for the defending state champions: Cinderella Kaiser. Konawaena played the Lady Cougars at the Ted Fukushima Invitational two months ago. The WIldcats won that preseason matchup 65-28.

“I don’t remember anything,” Cherilyn Molina said. “We’re just taking it one game at a time.”



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