BIIF: Konawaena closes on D2 state berth with win at HPA

  • RICK OGATA photo Konawaena's Marina Nitta dig ball earlier this season for the Wildcats, who can wrap up a HHSAA tournament berth as the BIIF regular-season Division II champion on Thursday against Ka'u.

It wasn’t easy, but Konawaena swept Hawaii Prep on the road to establish itself, once again, as a team to beat.

The Wildcats defeated Hawaii Prep 25-22, 25-22, 25-20 in a BIIF Division II match on Tuesday at Castle Gym, during senior night for Ka Makani.

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Konawaena (8-4) has its own senior night on Thursday against Ka’u (7-5). A win would give the Wildcats the BIIF regular season title and an HHSAA state berth.

HPA and Konawaena are annual travel partners to Oahu for states. Ka Makani have gone the last 13 years and the Wildcats the last eight. The two faced off for the BIIF title from 2013 to 2017.

The latest meeting was as competitive as ever despite the sweep.

“It was a back and forth battle,” coach Ainsley Keawekane said. “We have a good coaching staff and had positive things to share, and the biggest was mindset. We were tied 16-16 until we pulled away.

“We were down 9-1 in the third set, came back and beat them. Our mindset kind of kicked in. It was HPA’s senior night and the gym was pretty loud.”

Senior Malie Grace led the way with 15 kills and junior Anela Casuga added 11 kills. Sophomore setter Kailee Llanes-Kelekoloio and freshman setter Taimane Alo provided good ball distribution for the offense.

“Malie is a senior leader and team captain. Kailee is our other voice as a captain,” Keawekane said. “She gets Malie going, and Malie gets everyone else going. They’re two good team leaders.”

He’s had some powerful teams in the past. The program won four BIIF titles in a row from 2014 to 2017 and two state crowns in 2013 and 2014.

“The teams in the past were very knowledgeable. I coached every one of those kids since the age of 10,” he said. “There are two kids I’ve been coaching since they were 8 or 9 years old, Kailee and Taimane. They’re going to be like our future coaches. Strategically, they know how to operate the game.”

Grace has also played on his Hoopa club team, which has been to tournaments in Las Vegas, Anaheim, Calf. and Florida last summer.

“This year she’s a much better leader,” Keawekane said. “It’s her senior year and she’s so hungry. What’s what I like about her, that’s she’s being hungry.”

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The Wildcats will have to keep an eye on Ka’u freshman Chelsea Velez, who plays beach volleyball for Hoopa.

“We love that kid,” Keawekeane said. “She’s got a good attitude. She’s such a good kid to coach. She has loving parents. When you get loving parents, you get a good kid. She’s so awesome. It’ll be a good game with our senior night at home.”