(Here is the extended version of this morning’s Honolulu Star-Advertiser feature story on the Molina sisters of Konawaena)
These could be the two most memorable years in their young lives.
They’re three regular sisters, other than the part where they’re all fantastic at playing basketball.
Two of them love “Love and Basketball.” The middle child, Celena Jane Molina, prefers “A Walk to Remember.”
Get them together and, naturally, the oldest leads the discussion while the youngest says, “You’re talking too much.”
Two of them — again it’s Chanelle, the oldest, and the youngest, Cherilyn — agree on their favorite food.
“Spaghetti,” Chanelle said. “Our mom makes the best Filipino spaghetti.”
It takes a few seconds to transition back into roundball and their vision of the future.
“We’re going to win BIIFs and go to states with that aggressive mindset and win it for the first time since I’ve never won states before,” Chanelle Molina predicted.
Or maybe that’s a promise. All the while, it’s youngest sister Cherilyn, widely known as a standout point guard at the youth level, is also forecasting the future and overlapping Chanelle’s highly-usable quotes.
Celena Jane just grins.
That’s bold talk for the Konawaena Wildcats, but they backed it up with a stunning performance at the ‘Iolani Classic over the weekend.
For the Molina sisters, wearing a Konawaena basketball uniform is fun all the time. But with the youngest, Cherilyn, now in high school, they are doing something both rare and potentially historic. Chanelle (junior), Celena Jane (sophomore) and Cherilyn (freshman) may become the first set of three sisters to win a state basketball championship.
Emphasis on ‘may.’ It’s been two years since the five-time state champion Konawaena Wildcats played for a title — they lost to Kamehameha 45-39 in overtime in the 2012-13 season — and three seasons since they last won it. The Lia Galdeira-Dawnyelle Awa era ended after a run of three crowns in four years.
Now it might be the Molinas’ turn. They aren’t alone; there are three sets of sisters on the Wildcats squad this season. Ihi and Tori Victor, and Lindsay and Taylor Bates, plus the Molinas, comprise the majority of the roster.
The Wildcats (13-1) showed over the weekend that skill and tenacity still matter, even against players a foot taller. They upset then-No. 23 Miramonte 63-62 on Thursday in the first round of the ‘Iolani Classic. Sabrina Inoescu, Miramonte’s version of Katie Smith, the former Ohio State and WNBA all-star, had 39 points, 17 rebounds, six steals, five assists and three blocks in one of the most eye-popping performances in tourney history.
It wasn’t enough to stop the Wildcats. Over and over again, the Big Island Interscholastic Federation’s dynastic program worked through the traps and pressure of the Matadors to get precise bounce passes passes for open mid-range shots and backdoor layups.
Chanelle Molina, at 5-foot-7 or so, showed the shooting touch, handles and improved vertical — the sisters helped Konawaena win the state Division II volleyball title in November — that makes her one of the nation’s elite, if underlooked players. She finished with 27 points on 9-for-15 shooting from the field, with six rebounds and seven assists. Celena Jane, a 5-8 post, tallied 19 points, eight rebounds and two steals. Cherilyn, running the point, had 10 points, five assists and three steals as the ‘Cats ousted the powerful Matadors — who were one game away from the state final in last season’s CIF championships — in the opening round of the Classic.
Scoring 80 percent of their team’s points that night might seem too dependent, but the chemistry they’ve developed over the years playing for the Kona Stingrays against local and mainland competition is a treat for fans to watch. The lost art of passing is alive and well.
One night later, the Wildcats were decided underdogs against a Riverdale Baptist (Md.) squad that came to the islands as the tourney favorite. Even with a large influx of new players, the Lady Crusaders have four college prospects on their roster and front court depth standing 6-4, 6-2, 6-1 and 6-1. With the Victor sisters out (concussion, elbow injury), Konawaena’s average height was 5-5, if that.
Twenty points, 16 boards and five dimes later, Chanelle Molina had led Konawaena to a stunning 49-41 victory.
“I’m so proud of these girls. They’re pretty amazing, so filled with confidence. They do everything we ask them to do. I’m excited to be back in the championship game,” Coach Bobbie Awa said.
Without Ihi Victor, though, the lack of size became a bigger factor in the Classic title game. Konawaena rallied late, but fell to to St. Mary’s (Calif.) 68-59. Two wins over nationally-ranked teams and a close loss to No. 10 St. Mary’s was quite a series of feats for the rural school from Kealakekua.
The tournament of three nationally-ranked teams may turn out to be remembered as the event that catapulted Konawaena to a new echelon. The Molina sisters were problematic for all foes. Chanelle, named the tourney’s most outstanding player, averaged 21.3 points, 12.3 rebounds and 7 assists per game.
Chanelle began playing basketball as a fifth grader. Her dad, Allan, liked playing pickup ball on the courts of Kailua-Kona. Her mother, Rose, never played while going to Waiakea High School. It’s Rose, though, who has the fire.
“We were working kids,” Rose said. “There was no time for sports.”
At home, Chanelle Molina was always shooting baskets in the driveway. More so since the Wildcats lost in the state title game two seasons ago.
“The last time I saw Chanelle cry was after the loss to Kamehameha,” Rose said. “That was the best loss she ever had. I wasn’t upset; she was only a freshman. Since then, she’s worked every day on her game, shooting, dribbling, getting the other two involved. Celena didn’t want to, but they played games.”
Despite a somewhat late start to playing basketball full-time, Celena Jane Molina found success quickly. She was the force for a 12U Kona Stingrays team that won a tournament title in Las Vegas while double-rostering for the older Stingrays’ squads.
Still, their world doesn’t revolve around basketball 12 months out of the year. Celena’s first love was soccer, which she stopped playing after middle school. Cherilyn played both sports. The two younger siblings stopped with soccer in high school simply because soccer and basketball happen at the same time.
“I didn’t want her playing both during the same season,” Rose said.
Then, there’s volleyball. The three combined to power the Wildcats to the D-II state championship in November. During a summer tournament in Minnesota, a San Diego State coach took an interest in Celena Jane, a versatile player who can hit, block, serve and dig.
But it’s roundball that three thrive on together. Playing for Awa’s Kona Stingrays, they went deep into tournaments in Oregon and Seattle last summer. Along with Victor, the Molinas were named to all-tournament teams. Scouts paid close attention.
At this point, Chanelle Molina has scholarship offers from BYU, Hawaii, Oregon, Oregon State and Washington State. Arizona and Washington are very interested. But it’s the first offer, which came from Hawaii, that branched into something almost unfathomable for the Molina family.
During the ‘Iolani Classic last week, the Rainbow Wahine made offers to Celena Jane and Cherilyn, in addition to Chanelle, who they had offered a scholie to last year as a sophomore. The family was flabbergasted and happy, but it makes sense. All three have athleticism and toughness, the latter coming from years of playing with the Kona Stingrays’ boys team against other boys teams. Cherilyn, as many coaches at the youth level predicted, is a pure point guard with great savvy — the one who hits teardrop runners in the lane over 6-4 centers. Celena Jane, who also runs the 400 in track, may be the best runner and defender of the three.
“They said, ‘We want to give you a Christmas gift.’ I got chicken skin,” Rose said. “I said, ‘Are you serious?’ I know they really want Chanelle, but they said no matter where she goes, the offer still stands for the other two girls.”
Hawaii, with coach Laura Beeman in attendance the night Konawaena upset Riverdale Baptist, seems to have the inside track.
“Chanelle knows she wants to play with her sisters,” Rose said.
The other four schools that have offered Chanelle Molina have also made visits to Konawaena. One, Washington State coach June Daugherty, made a home visit. She may know the roads of South Kona quite well; former Wildcat standouts Lia Galdeira and Dawnyelle Awa play for the Cougars. Chanelle can’t get enough basketball; she helped Team Aloha win a tourney title in Arizona last spring.
“They hate to lose. Chanelle always thinks she can win against anyone she plays,” Team Aloha coach Fran Villlarmia-Kahawai said after watching the ‘Iolani Classic. “I think she’s more vocal than before.”
The hunger for a state title still surprises the Molinas’ mother.
“The drive that the girls have is crazy,” Rose said. “You can’t teach that competitiveness.”
Chanelle’s expectations are without arrogance. There was respect without fear as they took down giants at the Classic.
“We will clean up whatever mistakes we made. Our transition was a little sloppy. Boxing out more. Being smart with the ball,” she said.
Three sisters with a drive for perfection. That would be more than welcome in Manoa.
vs. Miramonte (Calif.) 27 points, 6 rebounds, 7 assists
vs. Riverdale Baptist (Md.) 20 pts, 16 reb, 5 ast
vs. St. Mary’s (Calif.) 17 pts, 15 reb, 9 ast
Celena Jane Molina
vs. Miramonte (Calif.) 19 pts, 8 reb, two steals
vs. Riverdale Baptist (Md.) 10 pt, 2 reb
vs. St. Mary’s (Calif.) 13 pt, 4 reb, 2 ast
vs. Miramonte (Calif.) 10 pts, 5 ast, 3 stl
vs. Riverdale Baptist (Md.) 7 pts, 5 ast
vs. St. Mary’s (Calif.) 13 pt, 8 reb, 1 ast