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Konawaena, Molokai set up for repeat runs


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POSTED: Sunday, March 01, 2009

In Konawaena's guard-oriented attack, it's easy for a low-post player to blend into the scenery.

Kim Brown did that for a good part of her two years on the varsity squad. She turned the corner as a senior and played maybe the best game of her life when a state crown was on the line.

Brown scored six key points in the second quarter to help the Wildcats take a three-point halftime lead against Punahou in Friday's Division I final of the Hawaiian Airlines/HHSAA Girls Basketball State Championships. The senior hit three more shots and finished with 13 points, answering all questions about Konawaena's interior game as the 'Cats won their third state title with a 54-50 double-overtime win.

"I've been trying to find my shot. I struggled against Baldwin," she said of her team's first foe in the tourney. "Tonight, I just kept shooting."

Brown drew two key charging calls off Punahou's offensive force, Janelle Nomura. Anuhea Wall, Konawaena's other key post, also stepped in and took a charge from Nomura.

"At halftime, Coach Bobbie (Awa) said we have to take away that middle when she's driving in the lane," Brown said.

One of the other seniors, guard Kara Hanato-Smith, provided the glue to a Wildcat squad that had eight underclassmen.

"We've bonded a lot more as a team," she said.

Konawaena (28-2 overall) made two early-season off-island trips that set the tone for their championship run. Those visits to Oahu and Maui netted wins over 'Iolani and Lahainaluna, but the most valuable outing was probably a 55-44 loss to Punahou (18-4).

"We're a lot better on defense now," freshman Lia Galdeira said the night before the state final. "The last time we played them, it was our defense that hurt us. But we're ready. We're quicker and we talk out there, more than before."

She finished with 23 points, nine caroms and four steals to earn most outstanding player honors at the state tourney. Galdeira's status as a phenom is well documented, but what may be more tantalizing about her play is defense. When she defends on the low post or on the wing, Galdeira plays off the pressure caused by teammates like Dawnyelle Awa, whose long, rangy arms and quick hands were a nuisance to every team at the state tourney.

That made the path to hoop happiness difficult for Punahou's go-to performer, Nomura, who still managed to score 20 points on 7-for-21 shooting. She was 6-for-7 at the foul line and led a rally that eliminated an 11-point deficit in the final quarter. Nomura finished the tourney with a 22-point average.

"I feel drained. It was a rough three games," said Nomura, who has signed with Cal State Northridge. "We were down big, but we fought back to force two extra periods. I'm really proud."

Nomura knew the Wildcats had improved.

"We were expecting a war. Oh man, they crash the boards and they play super-smart defense," Nomura said. "After all those charges, I never had an easy shot."

For Awa, there's no way to really compare this title to the ones from 2004 and '07.

"Every title is special. This team had more fun," she said, recalling the childish tendencies of her young players on those off-island trips. "They grew up just enough, just in time."

The Wildcats aren't done, of course. Galdeira and Dawnyelle Awa are just freshmen, as is Makayla Awa. Wall, post Misilosa Uulopa and backup guard Thea Hanato-Smith are just sophomores. All are rangy and fit well in their coach's mix of fullcourt and halfcourt high-pressure defense.

As young as they were, their ability to challenge in the passing lanes and scramble for loose balls gave seasoned teams like Farrington and Punahou fits. As long as defense remains Konawaena's priority, more championships could be in store.

Galdeira, who thrived on a diet of mostly pancakes and Cocoa Puffs (eight bowls at a sitting) during the week, also fed off the fans in green.

"Our crowd is the most important thing," she said of the 300 or so Wildcats fans who traveled to the tourney. "They get us pumped. We feel like we're at home."

Farmers harvest a crown

When Joelle Cabasa's 3-pointer from the right wing landed off-target at the final horn, Kamehameha-Hawaii's fantastic season came to an end and Molokai sealed its first girls state championship in a team sport.

The Farmers (16-3 overall) proved, as Konawaena has done for years, that bigger isn't always better. With an enrollment of roughly 350 and a brutal schedule—19 of 22 games are off-island—Molokai basketball is practically an introductory course into globe trekking.

"This is for all the small schools of Hawaii," assistant coach Mike Hooper said.

Hooper's daughter, point guard Danna-Lynn Hooper-Juario, had a coach's mentality throughout this championship season.

"We aren't the perfect team, but we have one mind-set. People underestimate us, but we're capable of great things," she said, perhaps referring to her team's No. 4 seeding in the state tourney.

While Hooper-Juario provided on-court savvy, the development of 6-foot-1 center Kalei Adolpho took a major ramp up during the week. She gave herself a pep talk after a quarterfinal win over University.

"I wasn't in it. I needed to push myself, get myself going. I wasn't being aggressive," said Adolpho, who was nicknamed "Bambi" by teammates on the 2008 Team Aloha all-star squad hand-picked by Mayor Mufi Hannemann.

Adolpho had nine points in the 35-30 win over the Jr. Rainbows. In a 47-37 semifinal win over Kapaa, she amassed 16 points, 25 rebounds and seven blocks, playing the entire 32 minutes.

She logged another 32 minutes in the title win over Kamehameha-Hawaii and finished with 21 points (9-for-11 shooting), 19 rebounds and five blocks. In those last two games, Adolpho accumulated 16 offensive boards.

"When I got more aggressive, I wanted some more and wanted some more," she said. "But the other girls came out big, handling the pressure in this environment."

True enough. While Adolpho and Hooper-Juario did the bulk of the scoring, their equally youthful partners never hesitated to take an open shot, which is just the way their coaches like it.

Jolenta Duvauchelle had eight key points and helped to slow down Warriors sharpshooter Kayla Lacaran-Costales, who had 15 points and three treys, but no 3-pointers down the stretch.

All but one of the Farmers, senior Kapua Adolpho, will return next season. A mini-dynasty may be in the works. They've put time in during the offseason, thanks to visiting basketball clinicians like Dennis Agena.

"Thanks to God and Mr. Dennis Agena," Hooper said. "He worked with us and helped us out."

A rematch of the two teams could be in store next year. Two-time D-II state champ KS-Hawaii (19-8 overall) will lose Cabasa and Lacaran-Costales to graduation, but the rest of the squad will return.

"The girls work hard in the offseason," coach Kalani Silva said. "We'll be OK."

Silva has simple advice for his team when the big dance arrives each year.

"I try to tell the girls, just enjoy the ride. Fifty-something teams didn't get this far."