Monarisa Ale, left, and the Kahuku Red Raiders split with Konawaena in a pair of preseason tournament games.

Confident ’Cats

Top-seeded Konawaena is 14-0
heading into the tourney

A balanced field awaits top-seeded Konawaena when the Wildcats arrive in Honolulu today for this week's Hawaiian Airlines Girls State Basketball Championships.

But for all the weight given to a detailed scouting report on the opposition, Konawaena coach Bobbie Awa has put the emphasis on her own team. Indeed, Awa has had no trouble getting the Wildcats to buy into the one-game-at-a-time mind-set that is beneficial in tournament play.

"It really doesn't matter who we're playing," she said. "We're honored to be seeded No. 1, but it doesn't matter if you're one, two, three, four or five. For us, getting past the first round has been our biggest obstacle the past two years, and it's more mental. We have to win that first game. It would be a big boost to our confidence."

Not that the Wildcats are lacking in the confidence department. They have won 17 in a row dating back to the preseason, and have been the Star-Bulletin's top-ranked team all season. During their Big Island Interscholastic Federation schedule, the Wildcats' average score was 70-24. Only a 41-32 win over Honokaa qualified as a close call for the Wildcats, whose only two setbacks came to Punahou and Kahuku in the Punahou Wahine Spring Classic.

Konawaena (14-0) is led by seniors Kristin Kitaoka and Nancy Hoist, juniors Hina Kimitete and Jessica Hanato, freshman forward Jazzmin Williams and senior reserve Keala Kaupu.

"Everybody scores for us," Awa said. "We think we can go about eight or nine deep. When we bring someone in off the bench, they contribute, and they can all play defense."

Awa, whose team avenged its loss to Kahuku with a 55-41 win in the St. Joseph Classic on March 20, plays the winner of tomorrow's Kamehameha-McKinley contest in a quarterfinal game on Thursday.

History supports the Interscholastic League of Honolulu, which has won 23 of the 27 state titles and 16 of the last 17. Not since Waiakea's back-to-back titles in 1985 and 86 has the Big Island produced a state champion.

"Coming from the BIIF, we still have a lot to prove," said Awa, whose team has lost to the tournament runner-up each of the past two years. "There are probably a lot of people who don't think we deserve to be No. 1, and we want to prove to people that we are."

Most coaches agree that depth will play a big part in this week's tournament.

"A lot of it will come down to stamina and endurance -- especially for us because we would have to play four games in four nights (to advance to the title game)," said Iolani coach Glenn Takara, whose team meets Kaiser tomorrow in one of the more interesting first-round matchups.

"Teams with a deep bench have an advantage, as well as teams like Punahou, which has the experience of playing in big games. Every night is going to be a battle. Whomever comes out of this will have earned the right to be the champion."

Added Punahou coach Mike Taylor, whose team won the championship last year: "There are a lot of quality teams that could realistically win it. You have your favorites with Kona and Kahuku, but a lot of teams come in with momentum."

Iolani (10-3) is led by Ginger Gravelle, Alana Wall, Hennesea-Sue Tokumura, Marci Kang and Kielyn Fujioka. Punahou has three starters back from last year's title run in Shanna-Lei Dacanay, Eryn Chun and Christine Takara.

"Every day, we've been taking steps," Taylor said. "We've had a long break, almost two weeks, but these kids always give maximum effort. Our coaching staff has been real pleased with them."

After its riveting state-tournament run of last season, it would be easy for second-seeded Kahuku (13-1) to regard itself as a team with unfinished business to attend to this time around.

The Red Raiders were impressive last week in winning the OIA tournament, and have lost only once (57-48 to Roosevelt) since their preseason setback to Kona. Wendy Anae's team features the state's most visible center in Latoya Wily and a supporting cast that includes, Mona and Aisha Ale, Camilla Ah-Hoy and Karla Tailele.

Unseeded Kaiser (11-3) earned its first appearance in the tournament since 1989. The Cougars took Kahuku to the limit in their OIA semifinal last week behind the play of Sharde Pratt, Kehau Bangay and point guard Shera Yamamoto, who brings a string of 85 consecutive starts into the tournament.

"She's always been consistent, even as a freshman," Kaiser coach Lisa Mann said of Yamamoto, who averages six assists per game. "For us, it's a matter of execution. We're talented enough, but are we disciplined enough?"

Kalaheo, which lost games to McKinley and Kaiser by a total of four points last week, features a pair of stellar guards in Shaina Siliga and freshman Shanadee Canon, while McKinley may have the state's top long-range shooter in Bre Carson.

In the Division II tournament, the winner of Friday's semifinal between St. Joseph (12-4) and St. Andrew's Priory will claim its first victory in tournament history. St. Joseph, the BIIF representative, is making its first appearance since 1978, while St. Andrew's (10-6) of the ILH has never played in a state basketball tournament.

OIA Division II champion Roosevelt (9-5), led by forward Tati Beasley, meets St. Anthony (7-4) of the MIL in the other semifinal.


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