Konawaena loads up for long-awaited BIIF D-II title defense

  • Konawaena’s Braelyn Kauhi spikes during last night’s DII game against HPA held at Keaau High school. Photo: Tim Wright

Since 2010, Konawaena girls volleyball coach Ainsley Keawekane and Hawaii Prep coach Sharon Peterson have shared a history of battling each other for the BIIF championship.

The success of the matchups is almost always determined by one thing: What coach has the better roster of club players.

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And for the most part it has been Keawekane, whose club team Hoopa is the farm system for his Wildcats as well as the rival Ka Makani as well.

Konawaena has won five BIIF Division II titles, including the last one in 2019 and also captured two state championships, since beating HPA in 2013 for its first HHSAA crown.

Keawekane’s Hoopa club team shut down due to the pandemic and the lack of facilities, but a few of his players played club ball for Southside, coached by Kamehameha coach Guy Enriques during the summer.

Southside captured the 16s AAU West Coast championship in June in Las Vegas, and several Wildcats were on the roster, including junior setter/opposite Taimane Alo, junior setter/opposite Liberty Tuifua, and junior middle blocker Chelsea Velez, an All-BIIF first team pick as a freshman in 2019.

Velez transferred from Ka’u and Tuifua from Kealakehe. Two Ka Makani were also on the team in sisters Margot Lewis, a freshman middle, and junior Parker Lewis, an All-BIIF first team selection in 2019 at outside hitter.

During the preseason, Kamehameha swept HPA twice. The Warriors defeated Waiakea to win the BIIF Division I title in 2019.

The Wildcats host Ka Makani on Tuesday at Ellison Onizuka gym in an early showdown.

Konawaena also has one of the best liberos in the BIIF in senior Kailee Llanes, a two-time All-BIIF pick. She won’t play tonight because she is undergoing her vaccination clearance.

“We have to figure out where our firepower and defense will be,” Keawekane said. “At the end of the week, we’ll figure it out. We’re looking good, even though the pandemic is going on it looks like we didn’t miss a beat.

“Club ball always helps. I spoke to Chelsea’s mom and she always wanted to play for me. I had her one year in club, and I’m glad she came. Liberty came because her mom lives in the district. I’m happy we’re back in the gym. It’s a short season with only five matches.”

Of course, the veteran Konawaena coach remembers Parker Lewis well and saw her younger sister play, too.

“Margot used to train in the sand,” he said. “There’s a lot of talent there. The ability is there. She just has to put in the time.”

The Wildcats also have Braelyn Kauhi, the daughter of former Waiakea basketball coach Brandon Kauahi. The 5-foot-10 junior is better known for hoops, but with her height she’ll provide a blocking presence and another offensive option.

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“I know Kamehameha took them out in three, but it doesn’t mean we will too,” Keawekane said.

In any case, the first big Division II clash will be a measuring stick for both teams.