It was a long 48 hours for the team from mauka side.
Kealakekua is mostly on a slope, its local high school bordered by ranch land, cows and horses. Perched roughly 800 feet above the sea, it takes some time to get down to historic Kealakekua Bay.
When the Konawaena Wildcats arrived on Oahu after a 7 a.m. flight on Thursday morning, there was no talk of dominating opponents, of threading the needle, so to speak, and getting past nationally-ranked teams and ginormous, heavily-recruited college prospects.
The Wildcats got off the plane, checked in, and had a shootaround at Klum Gym. By 5 p.m., it was time to play in the opening round of the ‘Iolani Classic, and they knocked out the nation’s 23rd-ranked squad, powerful Miramonte of Orinda, Calif., 63-62. Coach Bobbie Awa wanted her team to get some dinner and get to sleep at a reasonable hour. Instead, the eatery they patronized took a long, long time to serve up their dinner.
By the time they got back to their hotel, it was late. Everybody was pooped out and went straight to bed. Awa let them sleep in Friday morning. The only activity on the itinerary: a trip to the zoo. A scavenger hunt. Who knew they do these things?
The Wildcats returned to ‘Iolani for their 6:30 p.m. semifinal game against the nation’s No. 1 (or No. 16, depending on who you believe) team, Riverdale Baptist of North Marlsboro, Md. That’s when the magic happened again. Like mice scooting away from giant cats, the Wildcats escaped the clutches of the Lady Crusaders and their many traps. It didn’t matter that the talented squad from the East Coast — four college recruits among them — hovered over Konawaena with an extreme height advantage.
Konawaena kept doing the right thing. Bounce passes. Sharing the ball. Boxing out when it seemed boxing out would be useless. Sure enough, by the fourth quarter, all those offensive caroms swept off the glass by the Lady Crusaders became rarer and rarer. The sight of 5-foot-and-change Lindsey Bates, 5-7 or so Chanelle Molina and 5-8 Celena Jane Molina sealing off those 6-4, 6-2 and 6-1 posts over and over was more than surprising. It was stunning. Most high school players tend to give up much, much sooner.
There were the Wildcats, giving up 6, 9, 12, 15 inches, unwilling to yield that precious territory around the rim. For all their sharing and skill, it was their will to win that made the difference in two wins over nationally-ranked programs.
Konawaena is spoiling the vacation plans of many visitors to the ‘Iolani campus this week. They get one more chance, against national power St. Mary’s (Calif.) tonight in the tourney final.
‘Iolani Classic founder Glenn Young has seen his share of upsets and near-upsets in three decades. He was on the Raiders’ bench as they lost to St. Mary’s.
“I thought Riverdale looked past Kona. I also thought they looked tired. They couldn’t guard Konawaena. They couldn’t guard them one-on-one and they didn’t trap the ball,” he said. “It’s probably one of the biggest upsets, I think, because Riverdale is No. 1 and Kona only has eight players, and they don’t have any height.”
So, with wins over two national powers, where does Kona belong?
“That’s good question,” Young said.
First things, first. St. Mary’s versus Konawaena tips off at 7:30 p.m. Konawaena has played without sisters Ihi — a key starting post — and Tori Victor, and has looked tireless. Will the Wildcats be running on fumes tonight?
“I’m kind of curious how Kona’s going to do against St. Mary’s. St. Mary’s is a good team. Very disciplined. They shoot the ball,” Young said.
St. Mary’s is ranked No. 13 by MaxPreps, one of three nationally-ranked teams in the Classic. The squad from Stockton, Calif. has been supremely confident and strong with wins over host ‘Iolani (82-44) and Roosevelt (98-57).
Carlissa Shipp and Kat Tudor were key contributors on Friday in the semifinal win over ‘Iolani. Coach Tom Gonsalves has a deep roster and a grizzled tone to his voice on the bench from tip-off to the final buzzer. Once the Rams finished playing, he was much more relaxed.
“We play a lot of people. Yesterday, we had flown in, then we had an 8 o’clock game, which is actually like 10 o’clock for us. I didn’t want to make any excuses, but we looked like we had just done that. Tonight, we did a little bit better. I thought we came in a little flat, but I ripped them at halftime a little bit and they did good,” he said.
St. Mary’s was a national champion five years ago.
“At this time next year, this will be the best team I’ve ever had,” Gonsalves said of his squad, which has five freshmen. “We don’t cut slack at practice, so they know. It could be my best player or my worst player.”
The longtime coach — now in his 13th season — grinned from ear to ear as he talked about Konawaena.
“I just really like that team. I enjoy watching them. They’re smart, crafty and, believe me, it’s going to be a real tough game,” Gonsalves said said. “They hung in there, and Riverdale Baptist got a little tight as the game stayed close. The longer they stayed close, Riverdale got tighter and the girls from Hawaii seemed like they were very composed.”
Shipp is a 5-9 senior guard and Tudor is a 6-foot junior guard. Newcomer Aquira DeCosta, a 6-2 freshman, is ranked No. 2 in the Class of 2018 by ESPN.
“My freshman center (DeCosta), I’ve never seen her play as poorly as she did in the first quarter or so. She got it going a little bit. She’s going to be ridiculously good,” Gonsalves said.
All that youth leads to some typical transgressions, leading the coach to sub out two starters early in the game. It’s a good problem for the Rams, having so much competition within the roster.
I KNOW, YOU KNOW, INOESCU
Sabrina Inoescu of Miramonte continued her spectacular play on day 2 of the Classic, pumping in 33 points in a 74-62 win over Shenzhen of China on Friday. That gives the 6-foot junior — the one I compare to a very young Katie Smith (during her Ohio State years) — a whopping 72 points in two games. Inoescu had 39 points, 17 rebounds, six steals, five assists and three blocks in a 63-62 loss to Konawaena on Thursday.
Miramonte plays Roosevelt in a 5 p.m. fifth-place matchup.
Riverdale Baptist (Md.) 70, Shenzen (China) 52
> R—Honesty Grayson 17, Lena Niang 13, Janice Ladson 11, Passion Scott 10. S—Jiana Li 20, Ligi Wei 11. Note: Riverdale 8-19 FT.
Konawaena 63, Miramonte (Calif.) 62
> K—Chanelle Molina 27, Celina Jane Molina 19, Cherilyn Molina 10. M—Sabrina Inoescu 39 (and 17 rebounds), Keana Delos Santos 15.
‘Iolani 67, Kalani 30
> I—Kristen Ahn 11, Camy Aguinaldo 11. K—Kaylie Espinas 11.
St. Mary’s 98, Roosevelt 57
> SM—Kat Tudor 15, Aquira DeCosta 15, Ariel Johnson 12. R—Keala Quinlan 15, Kaohi Kapiko 12, Destiny Holani 9.
Semifinal: Konawaena 49, Riverdale Baptist (Md.) 41
> K—Chanelle Molina 22, Cherilyn Molina 7. RB—Lena Niang 16, Janice Ladson 9, Zion Campbell 9.
Semifinal: St. Mary’s (Calif.) 82, ‘Iolani 44
> SM—Carlissa Shipp 17, Kat Tudor 17, Aquira DeCosta 13, Naje’ Murray 9. I—Camy Aguinaldo 7.
Consolation: Miramonte (Calif.) 74, Shenzhen (China) 62
> M—Sabrina Inoescu 33, Keana Delos Santos 19, Clair Steele 9. S—Jiana Li 21, Qianqian Wu 9, Liqi Wei 9.
Consolation: Roosevelt 57, Kalani 14
> R—Starr Rivera 16, Keala Quinlan 16. K—Andrea Ching 7.
Seventh place: Shenzhen vs. Kalani, 3:30 p.m.
Fifth place: Miramonte (Calif.) vs. Roosevelt, 5 p.m.
Third place: Riverdale Baptist vs. ‘Iolani, 6:30 p.m.
Championship: Konawaena vs. St. Mary’s, 8 p.m.