Wildcats win first ‘Iolani Classic title since 2011

Konawaena's 2015 ‘Iolani Classic championship team: Celena Jane Molina, Mikayla Tablit, Tanniya Uchida, Jenny Fong, Cherilyn Molina, Mahie Kaawa, Chanelle Molina and Mercedes Ihi Victor.
Konawaena’s 2015 ‘Iolani Classic championship team: Celena Jane Molina, Mikayla Tablit, Tanniya Uchida, Jenny Fong, Cherilyn Molina, Mahie Kaawa, Chanelle Molina and Mercedes Ihi Victor.

Chanelle Molina poured in 21 points as Konawaena outlasted Bishop O’Dowd (Calif.) 62-50 in the finals of the ‘Iolani Classic girls basketball tournament on Saturday night.

The Wildcats, defending Hawaii state champions and ranked No. 1 in the Star-Advertiser Top 10, also got solid play from posts Ihi Victor (15 points, five boards, five assists) and Celena Jane Molina (six points, seven rebounds, one block). Victor had been in foul trouble in Konawaena’s semifinal win over South Medford (Ore.) on Friday.

“She played a heckuva game tonight,” Konawaena coach Bobbie Awa said.

Sophomore point guard Cherilyn Molina added eight points and classmate Mikayla Tablit added six points for the small, but highly-skilled Wildcats.

“We have never played a team like that (in California),” Bishop O’Dowd coach Malik McCord said. “We have the shot clock, so it’s a lot different. They were so methodical, kind of laid back like the people here. We had a blast.”

Chanelle Molina’s contributions, as always, were elite across the board: seven steals, six rebounds and four assists.

“I enjoy watching her play. Scouting her,” McCord said. “She’s a great player and the best thing about her is that she makes everyone around her better.”

The Wildcats’ returning all-state player of the year was humbled by the compliment.

“It’s an honor for other people to think of me like that. It’s very humbling,” said Molina, who played every minute of her team’s three games — 96 minutes. “Basketball is a mental game. The only person that can stop you is yourself. Just keep playing basketball, adjust to your mistakes and do better next time.”

Konawaena lost in the 2014 Classic final against St. Mary’s (Calif.) after upsetting two nationally ranked teams.

“It feels good. Last year, we were super close. This year, we have a feeling of accomplishment,” she said.

To no surprise, Molina was named most valuable player on the Glenn Young all-tournament team. Bishop O’Dowd’s versatile 6-foot junior, Maya Pace, was named most outstanding player.

Pace led the Dragons with 21 points, but they couldn’t overcome the surgical passing of Konawaena.

“We’ll learn a lot from this,” McCord said. “We have a young team. We gave up too many easy baskets, so we’ll go to work on our defense. It’s early in the season, so it’s about how you finish, not how you start.”

It was Konawaena’s second ‘Iolani Classic crown, the first since 2011 when Lia Galdeira were the mainstays of the Wildcats’ state championship runs.

“Every team is different,” Coach Awa said. “It still feels great to win.”

Konawaena’s experience proved valuable. The ‘Cats zoomed to a 23-7 lead and led 25-11 after one quarter, shooting 57 percent without committing a turnover. The Dragons, though, never surrendered. They used a 2-2-1 halfcourt press to break Konawaena’s rhythm.

The visitors got within 45-37 on a follow shot by Zakiya Mahoney (six points), but got no closer. The Wildcats went on a 9-2 run to open the lead to 54-39 with less than 5 minutes left. With Victor and Celena Jane Molina blocking shots and tipping passes, they sparked the Konawaena fastbreak, often with easy points on the other end.

The Wildcats will depart next week for tournament play in Washington, D.C.

“We didn’t box out again. We can’t afford to do that against big, experienced teams,” Awa cautioned.

Joining Chanelle Molina on the all-tourney team were teammates Cherilyn Molina, Celena Jane Molina and Victor, as well as Fiamea Hafoka and Cameron Fernandez of Lahainaluna; Mahoney and Mayla Andrada and Pace of Bishop O’Dowd; and UH-bound Juli Tago and Lauren Orndoff of South Medford.



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