The dilemma for Konawaena’s girls basketball team — a good problem or source of stress, depending on perspective — has simmered.
For coach Bobbie Awa, the arrival of three prominent Lahainaluna players recently could be a blessing or a curse, depending on how things unfold over the course of the next few weeks. Konawaena is in its third week of preseason, and there are risks involved with the transfers — sisters Lindsay Bates and Taylor Bates, and guard Aloha Salem.
According to administrators, the transfer rule and its facets are many. But in this case, there are some concerns for all parties involved.
>> By HHSAA and BIIF rule, the family of the children that transfer from one school to another is required to show proof that the family has vacated the previous home is mandatory. Example: a family that lives in a school district like Konawaena can’t go back to another residence for the weekends, whether it’s on the Big Island or another island. The family doesn’t necessarily have to sell its previous residence, but it must be, at the very least, vacated.
In this scenario, the Bates sisters live with their mother — who also moved — in Kona. Their father, Michael, doesn’t have to relocate, which means he didn’t have to leave his job on Maui. (Michael Bates responded via e-mail on Tuesday and declined to comment.)
>> There was a lingering question about the third transfer from Lahainaluna. Salem, who moved to Kona without her family, is eligible to play because the Bates sisters’ mother has legal guardianship through a court order, according to Konawaena principal Shawn Suzuki. He confirmed that all three student-athletes have been processed through the system and all paperwork has been handled. Suzuki, who is also president of the BIIF, is supremely confident about the situation.
“We have three girls from Lahainaluna who moved to Kona with their parents or guardian. They met all the transfer policies of the HHSAA and BIIF,” he said on Monday. “We hope the girls have an amazing experience. The most important thing is not athletics, but their academic and social experience. We definitely look forward to them graduating as Wildcats.”
“As long as their move is legitimate, as long as they have a court order (for Salem),” HHSAA executive director Chris Chun said. “They had (the court order) from before (the move). Konawaena is doing their due diligence.”
>> If the three transfers opt to return to Lahainaluna during the basketball season, all games that they played for Konawaena could be forfeited.
“The only consequence (of the transferring) is if they play (at Konawaena) without vacating their previous residence,” Chun said.
This is a major concern for Awa. Though the transfers have already played in a preseason game, forfeiture of preseason contests are not a big issue. There’s no way Awa, a longtime coach who has guided the Wildcats to four state championships, can guarantee that the three former Lunas won’t return to their original school during the season, though it is unlikely Lunas coach Todd Rickard would accept them back on his team. Awa is in a vulnerable position, forced to trust her new players and their families.
Konawaena is already a state-title contender without the transfers thanks to a strong returning nucleus led by all-state player of the year Chanelle Molina. Along with returnees Ihi Victor, Celena Molina, and the addition of youngest sister, point guard Cherilyn Molina — plus more newcomers from Awa’s Stingrays youth program — the Wildcats have a lot of potential this season.
The Wildcats are loaded in the backcourt. Adding three more guards is a Catch-22. Depth is always good, but the incoming squad already had years of experience and chemistry together. The Lunas-turned-Wildcats bring quickness and defensive pressure — Lahainaluna has always been a fullcourt pressing team — if Awa were to extend her team’s defensive reach.
However, if the transfers don’t start, or don’t get as much playing time as the starters, that might lead to the kind of revolt that happened at Lahainaluna. They could up and leave once again. Or they could be content to play in a successful program for one of the best girls basketball coaches in state history. That description could also apply to Lahainaluna and Rickard, though.
What will happen? Nobody really knows.
The Bates sisters and Salem grew up in the Lunas system, products of Rickard’s successful Menehune program. Longtime Lunas fans believe the three transfers will return to Lahainaluna after the hoops season to graduate with their classmates and friends. There would be no punishment for Konawaena in that circumstance.
All this means the Wildcats are as deep as they’ve ever been, especially compared to some seasons when they had just eight or nine varsity players on the roster. Lahainaluna isn’t doing badly, either. The Lunas went 3-0 in the recent Ted Fukushima Invitational at Kaiser, including a win over defending state champion Punahou in a rematch of last season’s state final.
(Update: Lahainaluna is now 5-1 after playing in Hilo’s tourney over the weekend.)
“They’re our friends, but they left. We don’t need them,” one Lady Luna said of the departed transfers.
Those words belie the sting. Without the trio of 3-point shooters, Lahainaluna is a strong post team with a great slasher in Cameron Fernandez — coincidentally, a transfer from King Kekaulike. The Lunas are still the favorite to dominate the MIL. Powered by Rickard’s Menehune youth program, Lahainaluna has won 10 MIL titles and 92 league games in a row.
Konawaena has been in caution mode with this most interesting and complex situation, particularly for four-time state-championship coach Awa. She has remained quiet on the situation.
“They’re here and it’s not a secret,” Suzuki said. “They’re wearing the green and white. Bobbie’s been very diligent about following up. She runs a very clean program and, more than anyone, she wants this to be legitimate. She definitely works hard on her end. She’s a good coach and a good person. She’s a Konawaena grad. She doesn’t want to see anything bad happen to her school.”
All in all, Rickard and his team have adjusted. He knew change was coming months ago when the Bates’ father stepped down as assistant coach. There were disagreements about strategy — Rickard took over the substitutions during a state-tourney game — and a postseason event. Officials at the Mufi Hannemann Jamboree, a one-day exhibition tournament featuring dozens of prep and ex-college players, wanted at least one Luna to participate.
Rickard had already seen a Luna, all-state player of the year Maiki Viela, get injured at the event a few years earlier. So, the Lunas had no plans to stay for the Jamboree. They flew home the day after the state tourney concluded. Rickard said he would’ve been OK with the Bates sisters or anyone else staying back on Oahu with their parents to participate in the Jamboree, but he emphasized that the team should travel together.
That may have been the breaking point. When everyone returned to Maui, things changed.
“Their dad stepped down. We wished each other good luck and that’s the way it ended up. He moved on and we’ve moved on,” said Rickard, who guided the Lunas to the state title in 2010.
According to Rickard, Salem played during the summer with a team from Hilo. The Bates sisters played with a team from Oahu coached by former Aiea standout and coach Fran Villarmia, who also coaches the Team Aloha all-star squad.
“We’ve been playing without them since May,” said Rickard, now in his 23rd season. “We’ll make the most of what we’ve got.”