KEALAKEKUA — There’s no initiation seminar or briefing before joining the Konawaena girls basketball program.
The standard that comes with wearing Wildcat Green is common knowledge, and just a glance at the banners hanging in Ellison Onizuka Gymnasium can serve as a history lesson for the uninformed.
Under head coach Bobbie Awa and her committed staff, the Wildcats have won nine Division I state titles — including the last four consecutively — as well as 10 straight league titles.
The program is also in the midst of the most dominant run the BIIF has seen in any sport, with the Wildcats’ leahue win streak sitting at 119.
The last time Konawaena lost a league game was to Waiakea for the BIIF title in 2008, back when the current crop of talented Wildcat freshmen, who are now the keepers of the streak, could barely dribble a basketball.
“They know about it,” the always-humble Awa said with a grin. “We don’t want to put pressure on them, but they know.”
When it comes to Konawaena, “reloaded” has been more accurate than “rebuilding” thanks to a strong Stingrays youth program that grooms future Wildcats for high-level basketball.
That being said, it’s a different type of year for Konawaena.
It’s the first time a player with the last name “Molina” is not on the Wildcats roster since 2013. All three of the Molina sisters — Chanelle, Celena and Cherilyn — were perennial all-state talents and are currently playing at Washington State.
The Wildcats’ young-gun roster features no seniors and four freshmen, most whom will see crunch-time minutes like Kayla Pak and Kaliana Salazar-Harrell. Junior big Caiyle Kaupu will serve as the elder statesman, having played an integral role the last two years on championship squads.
“We have a nice group of girls and some really young ones. They have to learn quick, but they are eager to,” Awa said. “But it’s not like they have never played before. They just have to learn the high school system. A lot of them have played travel basketball with us, but high school is a different level.”
While the Wildcats didn’t play their usual gauntlet of games in the preseason, the team’s own tournament served as a trial by fire. Konawaena faced Kalani and Lahainaluna — teams which are ranked No. 3 and 4, respectively, in the latest Honolulu Star-Advertiser top 10 poll.
Both games resulted in losses, but also valuable learning experiences, especially a tilt against the Lunas that took four overtimes to decide.
“They had to step it up and see what it’s like,” Awa said. “They will get better as the quarters go by and hopefully we will make it to Oahu (for the state tournament) in the end.”
Awa missed the epic against their Maui rival, as her daughter and co-head coach Dawnyelle Awa was giving birth.
“They were updating me,” Bobbie Awa said. “It was fun. I told them to live stream the game but then she started pushing so we couldn’t anymore.”
Konawaena is off to a 3-0 start to the BIIF season, beating its three opponents (Kealakehe, Ka‘u and Kohala) by an average margin of 48 points.
Lopsided losses are par for the course for the ‘Cats, but Awa said it hasn’t been hard to find learning experiences early in the season, even in blowouts.
“This team is like a family — and when I say that, I mean like half the girls are actually related,” Awa said. “We have a great core of parents who work hard and are supportive of the kids. Keeping them focused is not hard.”
The road gets tougher today in Kealakekua against Hilo (1-0), a team that usually finds a way to give the Wildcats a test.
It’s been almost a year to the day since the last time the teams met up, which resulted in a 42-34 Wildcat victory that was closer than the final score indicated.
Konawaena got a sneak peak of the 2018 edition of the Vikings at their tournament, with Hilo taking on Kalani and Lahainaluna as well.
Behind a strong core and stellar freshman of their own in Keirstyn Agonias, the Vikings hung in there with some of the state’s best, losing by just a point to the Lunas 43-42 and narrowly to Kalani, 60-51.
“Hilo is scrappy,” Awa said. “I told the girls it was good we played Lahaina and Kalani because they will full-court press and run hard. We expect to see the same out of Hilo. They play hard the whole game, have some good shooters and never give up.”
Tip-off for the game will be after the 6 p.m. JV contest.