Foul trouble. Illness. Punahou.
The road back to the state championship was a path of roundball destruction by the Konawaena Wildcats. At the Hawaiian Airlines/Hawaii High School Athletic Association State Championships, the onslaught of wipeouts continued. A 25-point win over Kaiser. A 31-point rout of ‘Iolani. Just a continuation, apparently, of a season in which the ‘Cats outscored opponents by more than 43 points per game.
Punahou paid no mind. It was the Buffanblu who seemed destined to upset Konawaena on Friday, taking an early lead, then rallying to tie it at 43-all in the final minute.
But then came Misilosa U’ulopa with a score in the post, a couple of free throws by Lia Galdeira, and two foul shots by Dawnyelle Awa in the final minute. After a season of domination, the Wildcats clawed their way to a 49-45 win in the final.
If Galdeira is the spark to Konawaena’s fiery intensity, Awa is the thermostat. With 10 seconds left, Awa could finally smile.
"I feel really good. It was intense. I was getting a little scared," Awa said.
Konawaena finished the season 32-1.
After the title victory, the Wildcats were more relieved than ecstatic. There was no celebration pile at midcourt. The mantle of a season-long No. 1 ranking left little room for surprise. The only thing left was for coach Bobbie Awa to accept a Sharpie and "X" out the "un" on a supersized banner touting Konawaena’s seasonlong mantra: Unfinished Business.
Her stats and explosive drives to the bucket were impressive, but Galdeira showed this week that she can run the point when necessary. With Awa and Galdeira, both juniors, keeping composure down the stretch, there was no repeat of last year’s final loss.
"Don’t panic. Just slow it down. That’s all," Galdeira said.
The constant was defense.
"I think it was the heart. These girls wanted it," coach Awa said. "They felt like one (last year) slipped away and they wanted it. This is probably one of the best defensive teams I’ve had. Way back when Jessica (Hanato) won that very first state championship we had a really good defensive team. To come back this year and play defense like this is really good.
"This year, we probably took the most charges I’ve seen our team take. We stress it all the time. They sacrificed and they take it."
Coach Awa kept an even keel despite a number of calls that had Wildcats backers — numbering in the hundreds — booing by the second half. Her players did no complaining. In fact, there is an allure to Konawaena that defies the norm. Among the backers were Kaiser players — who had lost to Konawaena in the quarterfinals — who painted K-O-N-A on their bellies. Even Lahainaluna standout Maiki Viela, who befriended the Wildcats last year, sat among Konawaena’s legion while wearing an airbrushed Wildcats T-shirt.
Next year, Awa and Galdeira return. So will forward Courtney Kaupu, who made big strides as a sophomore this season, and guard Makayla Awa. Anuhea Wall and U’ulopa, however, will graduate.