BIIF basketball: Konawaena’s next title defense will be tricky

RICK OGATA photo Jazelle Dorser will key Waiakea's BIIF D-I girls titles hopes next season.

Someone new always comes along at Konawaena, which develops and replaces talented starters with different ones, and the dynasty train keeps rolling along.

For a brief history lesson, the Big Three of Nancy Hoist, Jessica Hanato, and Hina Kimitete led the Wildcats to their first HHSAA Division I championship in 2004. They are the first faces on the Mount Rushmore of Wildcat lore.

Then they graduated, and a new bunch came in, like clockwork.

Jazzmin Awa-Williams, Mana Hopkins, and Liana Hanato-Smith were the backbone of Konawaena’s second title team in 2007. Two years later, freshmen Lia Galdeira and Dawnyelle Awa came aboard, and the Wildcats won in 2009, ’11, and ’12.

The BIIF’s greatest set of siblings started to arrive on the scene in 2013 when Chanelle Molina was a freshman. She and her freshman partner Ihi Victor were on the team that placed runner-up to Kamehameha-Kapalama.

Celena Jane Molina joined in 2014, and Konawaena fell to Mililani in the quarterfinals. Cherilyn Molina and her hoops pal Mikayla Tablit jumped on the train in 2015, and the Wildcats began their run of four straight state crowns.

Next season, all the senior starters — Cherilyn Molina, Tablit, and Kawena Kaohimaunu — will be gone, leaving the door of opportunity wide open for Waiakea, which brings back all of its starters, including athletic point guard Kelsie Imai and steady forward Jazelle “Jazzie” Dorser.

Next season, it’s Konawaena’s turn to hit the road during the BIIF regular season. The Wildcats will play Waiakea at its gym, where the Warriors will turn up the heat in the kitchen and apply ball-pressure all over the place.

The Wildcats beat them 48-29 for their 10th consecutive BIIF championship, behind a 15-1 third-quarter explosion and Molina’s ball-distribution proficiency: nine assists and no turnovers.

Konawaena will be down to one bona fide ball-handler with Tanniya Uchida and one other returning starter in Caiyle Kaupu. The Warriors have a roster full of athletic defensive ball-hawks, led by Zaelynn Lui-Cabinatan, who has quick hands and feet, to cover that duo.

When Waiakea traps Uchida, the Wildcats will need a swing passer, someone who can get open and feed the ball in the post to Kaupu, who’s an expert at short-range bank shots, or skip a bounce pass to a Konawaena cutter.

Cherilyn Molina won’t be on the court next season, but the same playing style — ball-sharing and tough defense — will remain in place. Plus, she has confidence that the coaching staff, Bobbie Awa, Dawnyelle Awa, Jessica Hanato, Kevin Yamasaki, and Liana Hanato-Smith — will develop the next crop.

“I know Kona is still going to be good because with coach Bobbie, coach Yama, coach Jess, coach Ana, and Dawnyelle working with them they will only get better,” she said. “In my opinion, we have the best coaches in the state.”

It’s probably a good idea to not discount Hilo, which returns three sharp guards in Mindy Kawaha, Tatiana Rideout, and Asia Castillo.

In Division II, the run for a fourth straight BIIF title won’t be easy with four starters gone, but at least Kamehameha has one solid starter back in Nikki Pacheco. She’s a coach’s daughter, so all the fundamental traits like dribbling, passing, shooting, and defending are second nature.

Still, coach Weston Willard already knows the deal.

“It’ll be a rebuilding year with Nikki as the leader,” he said.

For the boys, the past season had the best parity since the start of statewide classification in 2007. Keaau, Hilo, and Kealakehe tied for the No. 4 seed in the four-team BIIF playoffs.

Kamehameha captured the BIIF Division I championship with an unbeaten record but loses not only starters Nalu Kahapea and Isaiah Nakoa-Oness but three valuable bench assets in long-range gunner Payton Grahovac, energy guard Cyrus Veloria and window cleaner Grayson Cosier.

“We started two freshmen (Kaupena Yasso and Koby Tabuyo-Kahele) and a sophomore (Izayah Chartrand-Penera),” coach Mea Wong said. “We’ll have to tailor our offense to what we have coming back.”

Yasso has promising tools. He’s 5 feet 11, fearless and rugged on the boards and operated well at the elbows with a soft touch when Kahapea spaced the floor.

Next season as the main big, opponents will collapse on Yasso, who’ll need to develop counter moves when there are two defenders on him instead of one.

Of all the defending BIIF champions, Hawaii Prep will be in the best shape for a D-II title repeat, despite the losses of two key starters in Jonah Hurney and Michael Hanano.

Multi-skilled guard KJ Walker will slide over into the point guard spot, and sixth man Michael Hughes, who simply gets after it on the glass, will claim a forward job. Umi Kealoha, who’s long and lanky like Hanano and Hughes, will get promoted to sixth man.

Ka Makani coach Fred Wawner won’t have much to worry about. The new-look opponents will be on guard. His team will basically look the same.