By: Wes Nakama
No superstars? No problem.
That seemed to be the theme for ‘Iolani’s girls basketball team this season, which completed an improbable ‘Four-Peat’ Friday night by shooting past Konawaena, 59-38, for its fourth straight Heide & Cooke Division I State Championship.
A spirited and vocal crowd of 1,318 in SimpliFi Arena at the Stan Sheriff Center watched Paige Oh score 17 points and Callie Pieper add 11 points and five rebounds as the Raiders finished the season at 20-5. Braelyn Kauhi scored a game-high 19 points and grabbed six boards for the Wildcats, who finished at 18-4.
It was the third straight state finals meeting between the two teams, but the first for ‘Iolani without either of current University of Hawai’i standouts Lily Wahinekapu or Jovi Lefotu, who graduated in 2021 and 2022, respectively. The Raiders also lost a potential returning starter when Jaety Mandaquit transferred to Real Salt Lake Academy in Utah last summer.
“We focused on the same end goal, trying to make it to states and win the championship,” said Oh, a 5-foot-3 senior guard who turned an ankle in the second half but quickly returned. “Even though we lost our best players, it was a new opportunity for everybody to step up and help the team.”
The Raiders seized that opportunity all the way to the end, especially when post players Pieper and Mele Sake each picked up their fourth foul with ‘Iolani trying to protect a 10-point lead. Almost on cue, Kanoe Hanohano came off the bench and promptly drained a 3-pointer from the left corner to push the lead to 47-34 with five minutes remaining, igniting a 15-4 run to close out the game.
“We knew we couldn’t let up, because this team (Konawaena) is super scrappy and they’re well-coached, so we couldn’t let them get back in the game,” Oh said. “We just tried to stay disciplined on defense and be in control on offense, because sometimes we get frantic and we get into foul trouble with charges or moving screens. We just stayed calm and stayed poised.”
After the teams were tied at 12-12 entering the second period, the Raiders took control with a stunning 15-2 run bookended by layups from Sake and Pieper to make it 27-14 with 2:17 left in the half. ‘Iolani took a 32-17 lead into the break, then stretched it to 40-23 after four straight free throws by Hanohano with 4:38 remaining.
“We know these (‘Iolani) girls can shoot, so we knew we needed to get out there,” Wildcats co-coach Bobbie Awa said. “But they definitely did a great job working their bigs this year. They’re normally guard-oriented, but they really made use of their big girl (Sake), we had trouble stopping her. So now we’re doubling inside, leaving shooters open outside. So that was tough for us.”
Things got a bit dicey for the Raiders, however, when Pieper picked up her fourth foul with 1:17 left in the third period and Sake drew her fourth foul with 5:51 still to play in the fourth.
So even with a 10-point lead (44-34), ‘Iolani coach Dean Young did not feel safe.
“(Konawaena) has a championship pedigree, and a team like that — you can’t take them lightly, and you can’t ever rest,” Young said.
After Kauhi’s layup cut the lead to 51-38 with 3:21 remaining, Ohta, Pieper and Abby Tanaka sank 6 of 8 free throws to make it 57-38 with a minute left. And then the celebration could begin. And considering the big talent drain endured by the Raiders the past two years, it was a celebration well-deserved.
“In that sense, it’s probably the most satisfying championship, because of how much we lost,” Young said. “Once Jaety announced she was moving to Utah (in June), I think there were people who started doubting whether we would even be in the (state) tournament. So to get this team ready and successful … we just stuck with it.”
Photos: Lori McKeown
Mahalo to City Mill for sponsoring our high school basketball photo gallery and for supporting local sports in Hawaii.