Before the typical happy ending, there are usually hurdles disguised as life’s challenges in the way, and Saydee Aganus excels at jumping over anything in front of her.
The 5-foot-7 Kamehameha guard’s career played out in storybook fashion, not only for her but also for the other senior Core Five members: Jordyn Mantz, Makenzie Kalawaia, Taylor Sullivan and Hera Salmeron.
As freshmen, they were on the Warrior team, with Aganus and Kalawaia as starters, that placed third at the HHSAA Division II tournament. Then the Core Five finished as the state runner-up the last two seasons.
Aganus lifted Kamehameha to its first state championship since 2013 and third consecutive BIIF title, offering her services as an all-around weapon (floor runner and spacer, ball distributor, and defensive hawk) and cohesive leader.
She threepeated as the BIIF Division II girls player of the year in a vote by the league’s coaches, the Hawaii Tribune-Herald, and West Hawaii Today, becoming the first three-time POY.
In order of votes, the other All-BIIF first team members are Honokaa senior Bella Fernandez, Mantz, Kohala junior Kiana Kauka, Hawaii Prep’s Coco Shafer, Honokaa senior Kayla Branco, and Kalawaia.
“I’m very thankful for the opportunity to receive player of the year for the third time,” Aganus said. “It’s super cool to be recognized for another sport, and it’s a very humbling experience.”
The other sport that owns half her heart is track and field, particularly the 100 meters. Last season, Aganus set a state record with a gold time of 14.11 seconds. She’s still looking at Division I track colleges.
Kamehameha’s Weston Willard was named the BIIF coach of the year after guiding the Warriors to the state crown.
He pointed out that Aganus was a well-rounded package.
“Saydee is a team-first player, a defensive leader, emotional leader, and has a strong connection with the whole group,” Willard said. “Off the court, she’s polite, funny and enjoys being around friends.”
In the state championship against Saint Francis, Aganus produced across-the-board stats in the 41-32 victory: game-highs of 18 points and 11 rebounds, plus two assists, two blocks, and four steals in 31 minutes.
Nothing comes easy on the basketball court at states or in life. The Warriors got pushed down by Mid-Pacific 63-38 last season and by Hawaii Baptist 44-31 in 2016. Aganus and the rest of her teammates rebounded and never let self-doubt knock on their front door.
“The key was just believing in ourselves,” Aganus said. “We knew as a team we were not only playing for ourselves, we were playing for God, our families, our school, and everyone in our community. We were all on the same page as coaches and players, so the key was just believing.”
The Core Five grew up together. Aganus played with a bunch of teams: Kings, Cheetah girls, Ben Pana’s Keaukaha club team, Wahine Ryders, Hoop Dreams and the Hawaii Storm travel team.
“I’ve been playing with or against these seniors since elementary, so it was nothing new,” Aganus said. “We each brought something different to the team and to me, we were all MVPs this season. Something special about our senior group is that we all came from different teams, and when we came to high school we went from rivals to great friends.”
The team chemistry was developed through get-together glue moments. The Warriors went to Happy Valley restaurant every Friday and ate family style meals, had sleepovers and other fun events.
As happy endings go, with early rivals becoming friends and teammates and working together to complete a mission, Aganus will remember that there was always something special about the Core Five.
“Hera is one of the nicest players on the court, very smart and very humble. She also has a killer 3-point shot,” Aganus said. “Jordyn is also a great player who has a great 3-point shot as well. She is a very humble player. She brings the goofiness to the team, and she is a great songwriter.
“Taylor is the life of our team, the craziest person, she always puts a smile on someone’s face. She has a killer euro step (shaikkee). That’s a funny saying we have. Taylor brings the strength to our team. Kenzie is a silent leader, she leads through action and is also someone who always raises people up. She always thinks of the team before herself. Kenzie brings the selflessness to our team.”
That long-term team chemistry was a vital key for the state championship run, according to Willard.
“In a single-elimination tournament, nothing is given and everything is earned,” he said. “The group stayed together and persevered to earn a title.”
All-BIIF girls basketball
Saydee Aganus, Kamehameha, 12
Bella Fernandez, Honokaa, 12
Jordyn Mantz, Kamehameha, 12
Kiana Kauka, Kohala, 11
Coco Shafer, HPA, 12
Kayla Branco, Honokaa, 12
Makenzie Kalawaia, Kamehameha, 12
BIIF player of the year
Saydee Aganus, Kamehameha
BIIF coach of the year
Kamehameha: Dominique Pacheco, Taylor Sullivan
Honokaa: Sharissa Bird, Kuilei Aikau
Kohala: Kiana Kauka, CJ Agbayani
HPA: Mikaela Chong, Payton Au, Megan Jarrell
Ka’u: Kianie Medeiros-Dancil, Reisha Jara
Pahoa: Alyssa Padilla, Nanea Kaawaloa, Kanoe Paio