Dif­fer­ent breed of ’Cats

With just one Molina re­main­ing, dom­i­nance may be fad­ing

Hawaii Tribune Herald - - SPORTS - By RICK WIN­TERS

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.

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