Different breed of ’Cats
With just one Molina remaining, dominance may be fading
After claiming three straight BIIF championships and reaching the state playoffs six consecutive years, Konawaena’s volleyball team may finally be looking at a rebuilding season.
The Wildcats return only three starters from last year’s squad after losing 10 girls after last season and eight the season before.
“This is a very new team,” said Konawaena head coach Ainsley Keawekane. “They are going through a learning process and getting to understand what we do as coaches. We don’t run anything fancy, we just play volleyball.”
The biggest loss from last year’s squad is 5-foot9 setter Celena Molina, who is now playing basketball at Washington State. Molina averaged 30 assists, nine kills, eight digs and three blocks per set during the 2016 season and she was named BIIF Player of the Year.
Trying to fill that setter roll this year will be senior Anaselita Taetuna, sophomore Mary Jo Kuahuia and freshman Sariah Kuahuia-Pabre.
“Replacing Celena will be very difficult. She left some big shoes to fill,” Keawekane said. “I try to train two setters every two years and we practice setting for an hour every practice.”
The setters performed well in the Wildcat’s first match of the season, a three-set victory over Pahoa. However, the they struggled, especially early on in a match against Keaau last week.
Keaau dominated early, showing the team chemistry that is usually more apparent on the Konawaena home-side of the court. The Wildcats found a little rhythm in the second set, and managed to push the Cougars to a full five sets before picking up their first loss of the season.
Konawaena reounded to beat Honokaa and took a 2-1 record into its match Tuesday at Kohala.
A big test comes Saturday with a road contest at Hilo.
For Keawekane, winning matches is all about every aspect of the game flowing smoothly.
“I always talk to the girls about dripping faucet and river flow,” Keawekane said. “We don’t want to be the dripping faucet, we want to the be the flowing river. A dripping faucet can be irritating, but everyone likes watching a flowing river.”
The Wildcats are being led into the new season by Cherilyn Molina. Molina, who is one of the two captains on the team, along with McKayla Ventura, will operate mostly as an outside hitter, and she will be playing on a team without one of her sisters, Celena or Chanelle for the first time in her high school career.
“She is harder to read than Celena or Chanelle because she is the quiet one,” Keawekane said. “I tell her what I need her to do and she just smiles, and with no remark goes in and does what we expect.”
Keawekane added that Ventura is more of the vocal leader on the team, while Cherilyn Molina leads more by example. Both players are seniors this year.
“McKayla is pretty much the voice on the court,” Keawekane said. “She never stops talking and never stops trying to motivate. The kids really buy into her as a positive leader and she is a digging machine defensively.”
Ventura will also work as an outside hitter, along with Taetuna, when she is not setting. Taetuna, also a senior, has drawn attention from her coach because of her ability to get above the net.
“She is very aggressive and despite being only about five feet tall, she can jump higher than Cherilyn,” Keawekane said. “She is able to light it up and I expect big things from her.”
Other notable starters for the Wildcats this year are junior outside hitter Jalen Gambee, sophomore middle Maile Grace and junior libero Kawehilani Lumwon-Spinoza.