By Paul Honda
There’s not a single team in the Hawaiian Airlines/HHSAA Girls Basketball State Championships that is flawless.
True of any year, but more so now with talent levels and depth in a down cycle. Sure, Konawaena is a clear No. 1 — and has been since winning the state title last year on the heels of then-freshmen Lia Galdeira and Dawnyelle Awa. But, like every title contender, the Wildcats have faced obstacles and tribulations this season.
Here’s a look at the league champions and longshots.
Opponent: Baldwin or Kapolei, Wednesday, 5 p.m., McKinley Student Council Gym.
On paper: The Wildcats are seeded No. 1 in the state tourney and ranked first in the Star-Bulletin Girls Basketball Top 10.
The Wildcats are 23-1 and haven’t lost since the ‘Iolani Classic two months ago, a 59-54 loss to Southridge (Ore.). The Wildcats haven’t had a single-digit margin since, going 10-0 in the Big Island Interscholastic Federation despite missing Galdeira (shoulder) most of the way.
The skinny: Konawaena lost steady guard Kara Hanato-Smith and clutch performer Kim Brown to graduation. Losing two starters is a problem at most programs.
In their place, Thea Hanato-Smith, sister of Kara, and Anuhea Wall have stepped up and almost duplicated their departed teammates. Wall, in fact, may be a smarter, if equally strong post defender.
Galdeira returned in the regular-season finale and played a few minutes against Hawaii Prep, then played full-time in Konawaena’s playoff wins over Hilo (59-37) and No. 5-ranked Waiakea (50-37). The uber-athletic 5-foot-8 sophomore grabbed 14 rebounds against the previously unbeaten Warriors.
With Galdeira, the Star-Bulletin girls basketball player of the year last season, on the sideline, BIIF foes had their chances to knock off the defending state champs. Instead, the Wildcats morphed into a better team. Awa, a slinky, smart defender with long arms who can play any position, asserted herself. Always a great passer, she became a serious scoring threat by necessity. If she applies herself at the state tourney, there may be some surprised opponents.
Konawaena’s depth has as much to do with skill as it does with understanding coach Bobbie Awa’s concepts. As much as any team in the state — boys included — the Wildcats understand the benefit of unselfish ball movement and smart shot selection. They also know how to shoot the 3 and use it as a dagger.
These players, most of them, at least, have played together for years in Awa’s Kona Stingrays basketball club. That’s why Konawaena, not Kealakehe, emerged as a girls basketball powerhouse. Talent is there in West Hawaii. The Wildcats and Stingrays just work more.
X factor: Konawaena’s bench, including Misi U‘ulopa and Makayla Awa, have been largely off the radar, but have state-tourney experience. The overall experience level of the team, from club play to varsity play, is a huge plus.
Opponent: Roosevelt or Mililani, Wednesday, 5 p.m., Radford/James Alegre Gymnasium.
On paper: The Lady Lunas (23-2, 14-0 Maui Interscholastic League) are seeded No. 2 in the tourney and ranked second in the Star-Bulletin Top 10.
They loaded up on their nonconference slate and were 9-2 including wins over ‘Iolani, Farrington and Punahou. They traveled to Oahu and the Big Island, and hosted their own tourney.
The only two losses have been to Konawaena.
The departure of key players to graduation — including Rachael Rickard — hasn’t hit Lahainaluna severely. The Lunas finished third in the state tourney last year.
The skinny: Center Milika Taufa is the best low-post scorer in the state. Soft hands, a smooth stroke and excellent body control make her a tough cover. Taufa followed in the footsteps of a former center who also had dominant features: Fatai Hala‘api‘api. Taufa is not the defensive force her predecessor was, but is a superior offensive weapon.
The glue is Maiki Viela, a standout point guard who has dealt dimes and hit pull-up jumpers as a starter since her sophomore season. She and Taufa are an excellent 1-2 combo who are always on the same page.
The MIL schedule did little to help Lahainaluna, which puts the Lunas in a similar boat with Konawaena. On the other hand, it has given coach Todd Rickard ample opportunities to develop his secondary scorers and reserve players.
X factor: How much has Lahainaluna’s bench developed? Do they have a third scorer to complement Viela and Taufa?
Opponent: Waiakea or Moanalua, Wednesday, 7 p.m., Radford/James Alegre Gymnasium.
On paper: The Buffanblu are seeded third in the tournament and ranked No. 3 in the Star-Bulletin Top 10.
Punahou has played only 17 games this season, going 12-5. They were 9-1 in winning the Interscholastic League of Honolulu.
A new era, post-Shawna and Shaena Kuehu, post-Janelle Nomura, ushered in this season. The same ballhawking defense, though, is there thanks to coach Mike Taylor. The Buffanblu did not allow more than 39 points in ILH play and won all their league games by double-digit margins.
The skinny: Punahou goes 10 deep sometimes, using fullcourt pressure and a physical man-to-man defense to wear foes down. Even with all that muscle, they’ve found some offensive potential in freshman guard Khaliyah Thompson, a whirlwind in transition.
Guard Mysha Sataraka is a tough defender and penetrator. Center Hailey-Ann Maeda has been an offensive delight with a variety of shots and moves inside 10 feet. Maeda, daughter of Castle football coach Nelson Maeda, is a productive rebounder, too.
Sataraka and Maeda are just juniors.
It might be easy to say this squad is a year away from hitting its stride, but nobody should be surprised if the Buffanblu reach the final.
X factor: They haven’t had a consistent 3-point shooter this season. Go back to Nomura and even further back to Shanna Dacanay, and the 3 ball hasn’t been a big part of the program. That puts more emphasis on defensive stops, and so far, the Buffanblu have been up to the task.
Opponent: ‘Iolani or Pearl City, Wednesday, 7 p.m., McKinley Student Council Gym.
On paper: At 21-4 (15-1 Oahu Interscholastic Association), the Govs are the fourth seed in the tourney and ranked No. 4 in the Star-Bulletin Top 10.
That ranking can be a bit misleading in more than one way. When the Govs lost to Punahou and Lahainaluna at the Maroon & White Classic in December, go-to scorer Brydgette Tatupu-Leopoldo was injured (tendinitis, knee) and didn’t play.
The skinny: With her, the Govs have someone who can hit the 3, pull up for 15-footers and score on the low post, as she did in a win over Roosevelt last week.
The Govs have depth in the backcourt when Tatupu-Leopoldo moves to the post. Angie Argel and Lucky Crichton provide different contributions. Argel is a solid mid-range shooter; Crichton is a defensive stopper who can hit the open 3.
Kirsten Liana is possibly the best ballhandler among forwards and centers in the tournament. She has excellent floor vision, brings the ball up against fullcourt pressure, yet covers forwards and centers. She limited Roosevelt’s Mikela Thoemmes to five points.
X factor: Coach Caroline Tatupu’s biggest concern on the court has been rebounding. Despite their size, the Govs have not been dominant on the boards this season. If they don’t get their share of second shots, they can be beaten down the floor by quicker teams.
Baldwin vs. Kapolei
Tuesday, 5 p.m., McKinley Student Council Gym
On paper: The Bears got past Maui 38-37 in overtime to win the second berth out of the MIL. That was a strange turn of fortune; Maui guard Chynna Ramelb suffered an injured ankle last week at practice and Baldwin took advantage of the opportunity. Ramelb played, but wasn’t 100 percent.
Kapolei has been very competitive in the OIA Red West, but hasn’t beaten a ranked team yet this year. They have been close, losing to then-No. 10 Pearl City 35-33 and 47-41.
The skinny: Baldwin’s Malia Chang (14 points against Maui) is a scoring threat. Kapolei can answer with leilani Tauani-Fifita, Kaity Wills and Diamond Carter.
X factor: Baldwin is a decent free-throw shooting team, which could make a difference for two teams that usually score in the high 30s and low 40s.
‘Iolani vs. Pearl City
Tuesday, 7 p.m., McKinley Student Council Gym
On paper: This is a tough opening-round matchup for both teams. ‘Iolani (14-7, 11-3 ILH) is ranked No. 6 in the Star-Bulletin Top 10. Pearl City (20-5, 13-3 OIA) was ranked for most of the season.
The Raiders are deep, even with guard Kylie Maeda out since early in preseason (ACL). Saphyre Rezentes, Lori Yamashita and Lahela Usui lead the backcourt, while forward Alex Masaquel has pumped up her production in the past two weeks.
The Chargers are senior-heavy and have a balanced attack. Glacen Florita and Jordan Ahakuelo are effective in the backcourt, while Keshia Manning can be a force offensively.
The skinny: The Raiders use their quickness well in transition, pushing the ball upcourt and kicking out to open gunners on the arc. Pearl City prefers a halfcourt game and moderate tempo, but if Florita and Ahakuelo are missing shots below the foul line, the Raiders will run mercilessly.
X factor: Manning can be dominant if she takes her time on the low post. If she sets the tone underneath, the Chargers could pull off an upset win.
Roosevelt vs. Mililani
Tuesday, 5 p.m., Radford/James Alegre Gymnasium
On paper: The Rough Riders have lost to only one team since the regular season began. Unfortunately, that team was Farrington, and there were three defeats by a total margin of 10 points. Roosevelt (17-5, 14-3 OIA) beat Mililani in a nonconference matchup in December.
Mililani was 11-5 in OIA play, but has lost four of its last five games. Only a 52-51 win over McKinley gave the Trojans enough leverage to make the state tournament.
The skinny: When they’re on, Roosevelt is as tough to stop offensively as any team. In their 48-45 loss to Farrington on Thursday, guard Kelcie Namba scored 17 points, mostly on drives to the hoop, but low-post scorer Mikela Thoemmes finished with just five points.
Thoemmes is capable of scoring 20-plus if she gets enough touches, but on Thursday, she never got going. After a miss and a turnover, she didn’t demand the ball down low — spreading her feet, putting both hands up and giving her teammates the kind of body language that a dominant scorer will show.
If Thoemmes sets the tone against Mililani, the rest of the Rough Riders will benefit, including sharpshooting Nicole Ramirez.
The Trojans have one of the state’s top scorers in Amber Ogata. Kellie Sakai is another key shooter.
X factor: At one point, Mililani won nine games in a row, including a 38-36 thriller over a bigger Pearl City squad. Can the Trojans play another near-perfect game?
Waiakea vs. Moanalua
Tuesday, 7 p.m., Radford/James Alegre Gymnasium
On paper: Possibly the most difficult matchup of the opening round. Waiakea was unbeaten before losing to Konawaena in the Big Island Interscholastic Federation final. At 23-1, the Warriors have an impressive record and are No. 5 in the Star-Bulletin Top 10, but a lack of tough competition hasn’t helped.
Waiakea faced solid teams in preseason (Pearl City, Mililani, Kapolei), including a 54-47 win over host Moanalua at the First Hawaiian Bank Lady Na Menehune Preseason Peek in December. The weakness of the BIIF’s East Division left Waiakea with close games against Hilo and Kamehameha-Hawaii one week and 50-point wins over St. Joseph and Pahoa the next.
Moanalua (14-10, 11-7 OIA) had no such problems. Na Menehune have won five of their last seven, losing only to Farrington (55-50) and Roosevelt (49-43, two overtimes).
The skinny: Waiakea has a veteran leader in point guard Kamie Imai, but isn’t big overall. In fact, the Warriors have one of the smaller lineups in Division I, yet their superior ballhandling makes them almost impossible to come back on.
Moanalua has a mix of youth inside and experience on the perimeter. Point guard Joanna Nicholas has played on a partial ACL tear, while Jasmine Funtanilla and A.J. Verdida have stepped up as playmakers and scorers.
X factor: Moanalua will have a size advantage, but Waiakea has proven over and over that size matters not to them.