Rising Maryknoll aims at Konawaena dynasty

Maryknoll head coach Chico Furtado spoke to his team during a timeout at the Iolani Classic tournament. Photo by Cindy Ellen Russell/Star-Advertiser.
Maryknoll head coach Chico Furtado spoke to his team during a timeout at the Iolani Classic tournament. Photo by Cindy Ellen Russell/Star-Advertiser.

What was once the bastion of private schools has become a public-school thing.

It is now eight state girls basketball crowns in the past 13 seasons by teams from the public schools.

Or maybe it is neighbor-island dominion. All eight of those public-school titles were by Konawaena (seven) and Lahainaluna (one).

Or maybe, just maybe, the reign of Konawaena — seven state titles in the past 13 seasons by one of the smallest public high schools in the state (enrollment roughly 800) — is in danger of being usurped by Maryknoll.

Maybe. The Lady Spartans are loaded with underclassmen, talented enough to win three ILH titles in a row. They placed third in state as freshmen, second as sophomores, and maybe their time has come.

But let’s turn back the clock just a bit, not too far back. It wasn’t long ago, really, when Al Apo and the Kamehameha Warriors ruled from the heights of Kapalama in girls basketball.

It was in 1988, then in ’90 through ’93 that Imua was the theme and a handful of majestic koa trophies found their way into the trophy case at Kekuhaupio Gymnasium. There was ‘Iolani’s state title under Bernie Ching in ’90. Imagine that, a Kamehameha graduate (Ching) altering what would’ve been six titles in a row by his alma mater.

By ’94, the Kamehameha dynasty began to wane. It was still potent, but Shelly Kahuanui Fey guided Punahou to its first girls hoops state crown since ’81. The Buffanblu beat ‘Iolani in the final, 75-56.

Ching’s Raiders came back to win the ’95 and ’96 titles, defeating Kamehameha (again), 58-38 and 57-52. The Raiders haven’t won a state title in girls basketball since.

Fey coached Punahou to titles in ’97, beating Honokaa 60-37, and ’98, with a 64-51 win over Kalaheo.

Clay Cockett was the coach at Kamehameha when they won three titles over a four-year span. In ’99, the Warriors edged Punahou 35-30, and in ’00, they beat Kalaheo 37-28 in a game best remembered for Cockett’s tactic of holding the ball for more than half of the third quarter. Why? Because his niece, Brandy Richardson, had already scored 18 points in the first half for Kalaheo. The move worked. Kalaheo stayed in a zone, let the time tick away before changing defenses, and Kamehameha won the championship.

Aiea broke up the run with an unprecedented run to the state title with Fran Villarmia — now coaching with sister Nadine at Waipahu — at the helm. Na Alii beat Kalaheo 52-45 in the final.

After Kamehameha beat Punahou 45-42 in the ’02 state final, the Warriors didn’t win again for more than a decade. Expansion with new campuses on Maui and the Big Island were a key factor in depleting the once-formidable roster. The likes of Kea Kimball (Molokai) and Ashley DeSilva (Big Island) were major contributors to Kapalama’s title runs. No more, at least for awhile.

In ’03, the Punahou dynasty began under elementary school teacher and Agena Clinic coach Mike Taylor. Dean Agena had been key part of Kamehameha’s staff, and though he wasn’t on staff at Punahou, his imprint was there through the many young players who funneled into Punahou.

Taylor’s gritty, defensive-minded teams won state titles in ’03, ’05, ’06 and ’08. In all, four state crowns in six seasons. Ten seasons into his run as head coach, Taylor stepped down, and since then, Punahou has employed four head coaches in five seasons.

Meanwhile, the Konawaena empire was building. From its roots in the Kona Stingrays grassroots team, Bobbie Awa and husband Donald diligently built up a team that was primarily formed of nieces and nephews. The Wildcats broke the ILH’s iron-clad grip on state championships in ’04. Until that season and a 51-41 win over Kahuku, ILH programs had won 16 of the previous 17 title games.

Konawaena won in ’07, 59-47 over Taylor’s Buffanblu. Then, in ’09 began a roll of three titles in four seasons. Awa’s ’08 was depleted, featuring future college player Mana Hopkins, but in ’09 the Wildcats edged Punahou in double overtime, 54-50. In ’11, they edged Punahou again, 49-45, and in ’12, Konawaena beat ‘Iolani, 56-45.

During that Kona run sparked by future pro Lia Galdeira and Dawnyelle Awa, Coach Todd Rickard’s Lahainaluna squad stepped in behind point guard Maiki Viela and rallied past Konawaena 47-45 in the ’10 championship game. It remains the Lady Lunas’ lone state crown.

In ’13, Darold Imanaka guided Kamehameha to the state crown with a 45-39 OT victory over Konawaena. The potential for a new dynasty appeared to be real, but a year later, Imanaka stepped down.

In ’14, longtime assistant coach Kevin Velasco, who had spent the previous season at Kamehameha with Imanaka, took over at Punahou. He led the Buffanblu to a 60-48 win over Lahainaluna for the state crown. Soon after, however, he, too, stepped down.

In ’15 and ’16, Awa’s Wildcats returned to the forefront. With Chanelle Molina as their court general, Konawaena took the state titles, beating Lahainaluna 51-41 and an uprising Maryknoll squad 44-34. The all-time mark of most girls basketball state titles belongs to Punahou with 11. Awa, however, has the most titles by one coach with her seven.

In ’17, Maryknoll won its third ILH title in a row behind a nucleus that started as freshmen, adding banners to new, pristine Clarence T.C. Ching Gymnasium.

Coach Chico Furtado’s squad finished third in the state in ’15, second in ’16. The Lady Spartans are ranked No. 1 in the Star-Advertiser Top 10, but seeded second to two-time defending state champion Konawaena as the quarterfinal round heats up tonight.

Maryknoll meets Kaimuki, the OIA runner-up, in a 7 p.m. contest at Moanalua. MIL champion Lahainaluna plays Mililani in the 5 p.m. game at Moanalua.

Konawaena's Celena Jane Molina shoots over Lahainaluna's Matafolau Hafoka during the first half of the 2015 state championship game.  (Jamm Aquino/Honolulu Star-Advertiser).
Konawaena’s Celena Jane Molina shoots over Lahainaluna’s Matafolau Hafoka during the first half of the 2015 state championship game. (Jamm Aquino/Honolulu Star-Advertiser).


  1. rabbit ears February 3, 2017 9:33 am

    Go Chico!!!

  2. Casual Observer February 3, 2017 5:18 pm

    The last time Konawaena had a six footer was in 2005 when they won their first state championship under Coach Bobby Awa. Since then, size and numbers were never in their favor. Add to that fact is that they are indeed a public school and compete at the highest levels for as long as Coach Awa has been there. They have also beat ranked mainland schools despite the huge size discrepancies. And they continue their excellence with one of their smallest squads and limited number of players. Konawaena’s prowess and consistency begins with Coach Awa. She is doing something special and amazing and her success is unreported.

  3. Casual Observer February 3, 2017 5:23 pm

    oops, sorry – corrections: 2004 championship/ success is under reported.

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