Konawaena is ranked No. 9 nationally in the MaxPreps Xcellent 25 Writers Poll, which is released each Tuesday.
Props to MaxPreps, which has kept the Wildcats in the conversation for years. After Konawaena knocked off two nationally-ranked teams in last year’s Classic, they rose in the Xcellent 25. Maybe not as high as some fans would prefer, but a team of sub-6 footers in the top 10 of a national rankings list is still something awfully amazing.
W ‘Iolani 65-31, Nov. 20
W Kaiser 65-28, Nov. 21
W Punahou 68-40, Nov. 22
W Honokaa 67-18, Dec. 4
W Lahainaluna 59-31, Dec. 5
W Kamehameha-Hawaii 75-30, Dec. 5
W Mililani 75-22, Dec. 10
W South Medford (Ore.) 62-48, Dec. 11
W Bishop O’Dowd (Calif.) 62-50, Dec. 12
W Pahoa 81-11, Dec. 16
Longtime boys coach Greg Tacon remarked on Facebook the other day about the Konawaena girls program.
“I’m not sure people understand what an amazing program they have. To do what they do every year is unreal,” the Kamehameha coach wrote.
He’s right. Not only do Coach Awa and her staff promote consistency and fundamentals, they’ve managed to do it in an era when young players are sometimes sensitive to coaching styles in all sports. Awa is a taskmaster, no doubt. There are many, many potential hoopsters who have instead chosen softball or soccer or both as their preferred high school varsity sport.
Those eight kids you see on the Konawaena sideline before each game? That’s basically all they’ve got. If there’s more than that, those are JV-level players who are on the varsity because the program doesn’t have a JV team. (The MIL doesn’t even have girls JV basketball anymore, but I’ll touch more on that in the Lahainaluna capsule below.)
Yes, it’s not just the rest of the state that may have overlooked the Wildcats, even to this day. Even within the community there, girls basketball is not queen. Remember that scenario a couple of years ago? The HHSAA quadrant-structured regional hosted by Konawaena was actually played at Kealakehe — 15 miles away and considered a neutral site — while the boys team hosted Hawaii Prep in a crucial BIIF game. The girls, hosting a state-tourney game for the first (and probably last) time, drew a few hundred fans who were willing to endure the traffic into Kailua town en route to Kealakehe. The boys game was basically a sellout in Onizuka Gym.
Point is, for all of the success by Coach Awa and her staff and players, it’s not like tons of talent is prowling toward her program. It’s been, over the past two decades, a matter of quality over quantity. Of course, developing some of the best players in state history like Lia Galdeira and Chanelle Molina hasn’t hurt. Most of them came through the Kona Stingrays program that Awa and husband (and boys coach) Donald Awa run.
What they did last week, beating Mililani, South Medford (Ore.) and Bishop O’Dowd (Calif.) was classic Konawaena hoops. Methodical, as Bishop O’Dowd coach Malik McCord said, yes. Disciplined, oh yes. And so fundamentally sound. Awa’s offensive approach has always been built around motion by all five players, even with tweaks and additions to the playbook. If you missed the Wildcats at the Ted Fukushima Invitational or last week’s ‘Iolani Classic, you might not see offensive basketball with that kind of flow and precision, or that kind of defensive efficiency and transition scoring again. At least until the state tourney.
The math says so. Lahainaluna, which finished fifth in the Classic and is ranked No. 2 in the state, lost to Konawaena at the Wildcats’ tourney by a sizable margin (59-31). There’s no hating here. The Lunas actually kept their word and flew to the Big Island for the tourney despite the risk of dengue fever that scared off (and I can’t blame them) four ILH teams that cancelled plans to travel.
So far, no other Hawaii team has lost by a margin as close but one: Punahou, which lost to Konawaena 68-40 at the Fukushima tourney.
Next up for the Wildcats is a Dec. 23 road trip to Ka‘u. (Where have you gone, Augie Cabudol and the once-rising Ka‘u Action club team? I miss Coach Augie.)
Christmas and New Year’s will be spent on the East Coast. Konawaena travels to Washington D.C. and will play Forestville Military Academy (Md.) on Dec. 28. The Knights are 3-0.