Golden girls Molina, Taylor made 2016 one to remember

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It was the evening of May 7, 2016, and the cheers could be heard from the Big Island to Oahu.

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It was the evening of May 7, 2016, and the cheers could be heard from the Big Island to Oahu.

First came the surprise: At the HHSAA track and field championships at Kamehameha-Kapalama, the incomparable Emma Taylor hurdled herself into BIIF history and led Hawaii Prep to an impromptu state title.

Then came the suspense: Back in Hilo a few hours later, Kamehameha fell behind – again and again and again – battled back, took lead and held on – barely – to capture the school’s first state baseball title.

That snapshot provides a look at two of the Big Island’s biggest sports stories of 2016, a year in which the BIIF said goodbye to a couple of golden girls.

One is Taylor, who helped Ka Makani have themselves a year. The other is the equally incomparable Chanelle Molina, who took her considerable basketball talents to Washington State.

It was a topsy-turvy year for two of the Big Island’s top pro athletes, BJ Penn and Kolten Wong, while two others, Britney Yada and Cody Cabral, continued to climb the ladder.

At UH-Hilo, baseball buzz filled the spring air, and the winds of change never did let up for the Vulcans.

A look at some of the top stories of the year, as chosen by the Tribune-Herald:

1A. Chanelle caps reign

Konawaena suited up just five players against Maryknoll in the HHSAA Division I girls basketball championship game, but luckily for the Wildcats, one of them was Chanelle Molina.

She finished with 24 points and six rebounds to power Konawaena to a 54-44 victory and its second state title in a row and seventh under coach Bobbie Awa.

Molina missed much of the BIIF season with an ankle injury, but she suited up in the regular-season finale at Hilo High’s raucous gym as the Wildcats survived a squeaker. A week later, Konawaena won its eight consecutive BIIF title, giving Molina six to go along with the two she won in her second sport that she starred in, volleyball.

Molina left Konawaena with four state titles (two apiece in volleyball and basketball) and five BIIF Players of the Year (three in hoops, two in volleyball), making her the most accomplished athlete in a team sport in league history.

In may be a long time before we see a female athlete like Molina, of course …

1B. Emma goes out in grand style

… The same could be said of Taylor.

It was all but a foregone conclusion that Taylor was going to sweep the two hurdling races at states, and she didn’t disappoint in winning her sixth and seventh gold medals in her marquee event, becoming the most decorated track and field athlete in BIIF history.

But a funny thing happened to Taylor as she was ascending at states – her team followed her.

Taylor also picked up a silver in the 200 and ran the anchor leg for a relay team that finished fourth, providing Ka Makani with more than half of their points as they edged Kaiser 57-55 for their first state track championship since 1995.

“I still can’t believe her,” coach Pat Lau told the Tribune-Herald.

3. A crown for Kamehameha

The Warriors had reached the state baseball title game three times in the past six seasons, so a lot what was expected of them when they were awarded the No. 1 as the host at Wong Stadium.

Kamehameha ripped Kalaheo 14-2 in the quarters and rode Tai Atkins’ 13-strikeout performance to a 9-1 win against St. Francis in the semis.

The final against Kapolei wasn’t as easy.

The Warriors were down to their last out in the top of the seventh and were staring at an apparent loss when Makana Aiona popped up in the infield – but the ball fell harmlessly to the ground, tying the game.

In the top of the eighth, DallasJ Duarte coaxed a go-ahead walk to give Kamehameha a 5-4 lead, and that score held up behind pitcher Daylen Calicdan, but not without some controversy.

Kapolei loaded the bases with two outs in the bottom of the eighth when Aiona fumbled a grounder at third but was fast enough to grab the ball and beat a runner to the bag to secure the championship on a close play.

A few fans from Oahu let the Tribune-Herald know they weren’t happy with the call, but the trophy rests at Kamehameha nevertheless.

4. Yada’s bumper year

The were signs that Waiakea grad Britney Yada was in for a breakthrough year when she qualified for her first LPGA tournament in May.

Yada didn’t make the cut at the Kingsmill Championship, but she’ll back for more in 2017 thanks to her performance at the LPGA Tour qualifying tournament in earlier this month.

She earned conditional status on the tour in her third try at the third stage of Q-school, meaning she can sign up for LPGA events and hope for the best. Yada’s number is 160, and a full field is 144.

“It will be hard to plan my year, because I will be watching alternate lists every week,” Yada told the Tribune-Herald. “But it will be a great problem to have!”

5. Wong’s lesson

Kolten Wong went from the Big Island’s only major leaguer to one of its handful of minor leaguers – but only for a spell.

The Cardinals sent the slumping Wong to Triple-A in June, and he promptly tore it up and earn a promotion.

The Kamehameha graduate finished the year hitting just .240 – 22 points behind his 2015 average – but he called the season a blessing.

“People might look at it as a bad year, but I look at it as a blessing in disguise,” Wong told the Tribune-Herald. “I got to learn a lot about myself on a personal standpoint and I got to face adversity and understand that I need to face adversity head-on instead of making excuses.”

6. Kurokawa’s a keeper

The right-hander appeared to be poised for a big senior year, and he came fast out of the gates, firing a two-hit shutout against UH-Manoa in the season-opener.

After that gem, fans started calling up the athletics department asking, not for a schedule, but,”When is Jordan pitching?”

Major league scouts wanted to know the same thing, too.

Kurokawa would go on to strike out 67 batters in 63 innings, finishing with a 2.96 ERA for a team that finished 9-33, and he was selected in the 28th round of the MLB draft by the Phillies.

7. Comeback on hold

It wasn’t so much that UFC Hall of Famer BJ Penn couldn’t get off the mat. It’s that he couldn’t get on it.

One comeback attempt in June was wiped out after Penn accepted a six-month suspension for violating the MMA organization’s policy on IV usage.

Another try at a return to the octagon in October went awry after Penn suffered an injury while training.

Perhaps 2017 will be kinder to the Hilo fighter? Penn is scheduled to fight Yair Rodriguez on Jan. 15 in Phoenix at UFC Fight Night: Rodriguez vs. Penn.

8. Reyes resigns

It shouldn’t be all that surprising when a coach moves on after five consecutive losing seasons, but Tino Reyes’ resignation from UH-Hilo’s volleyball program could be a sign of things to come.

A pair of coaches, soccer director Lance Thompson and softball coach Peejay Brun left on their own, but UH-Hilo athletic director Pat Guillen forced Reyes out.

The question in Vulcans’ land becomes: Who, if anyone, should fear for their job in 2017?

9. State football changes/Viks remain the same

The HHSAA unveiled a six-team Open Division football playoff, but the BIIF opted to stay and play in the Division I tournament, and got a second team in the field.

Hilo went undefeated for its fourth consecutive BIIF D-I title, while Waiakea took advantage of the extra spot and ended its 15-year state drought.

In the quarterfinals, the Vikings almost ended the BIIF’s winless state streak, but a last-second blocked field goal relegated the league to 0-19 all-time.

10. HPA pulls a double

If there is not a sign in Waimea that reads “Soccer Town, Hawaii,” maybe there should be.

First, the HPA girls won their third consecutive state crown, with Jordan Zarate scoring in the second half to deny Kamehameha 1-0.

Then the boys followed suit for their first state title, also beating Kamehameha, 3-1.

Honorable mention

Waiakea graduate Cody Cabral carried the flag for Hawaii, competing in steer wrestling at the National Finals Rodeo.

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