Watch Out, Here Comes Konawaena

During his years as Hawaii’s governor, George Ariyoshi was described by Walter Dods as “quiet and effective.” Well, those words could apply equally to another hard-working professional today — not in the political realm but in the world of women’s sports.

Meet Bobbie Awa , who has taken her alma mater Konawaena High to a ranking of No. 21 in the nation — and without much fanfare — according to MaxPreps Xcellent 25 Girls Basketball, where they are characterized as being “really good.” They are clearly the best-kept athletic secret in the state.


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Coach Bobbie Awa of Konawaena PHOTO FROM JESSICA HANATO

Awa is so low-key, she couldn’t even tell me how many victories she has amassed overall or how many championships she’s won. Nor did she know her team’s national ranking. In digging through the records, I was able to learn that she began coaching in 2001, and since then has won 12 Big Island Interscholastic Federation (BIIF) titles, and captured five state crowns, tying her with Kamehameha Schools’ Al Apo for most championships won by an individual coach. Awa’s teams have made it to the state title game eight out of 14 seasons. And Konawaena, with its enrollment of 700 students, is heavily favored to make it nine out of 15 seasons with another state crown this week at Stan Sheriff Center, site of the 38th annual HHSAA girls state basketball championship. All this dynasty chatter makes Awa uncomfortable, given her humble nature and personality.

The Wildcats emerged on the national radar screen with impressive performances in the December Iolani Classic, in particular their stunning victories over two national powerhouses and a narrow loss in the finals to another talented and tall team from California.

In typical Awa style, she and her squad “rededicated themselves to improving and getting better every day.”

When pressed to talk about her success, she is quick to credit her husband, Donald Awa, the varsity boys head coach at Konawaena, and a dedicated stable of coaches, most of them related to her or Donald. They have truly taken the maxim “the family that plays together stays together” to another level. They coach year round through the Kona Stingrays, a hoops club comprised of boys and girls from 5 to 14 years of age, that Donald founded 20 years ago. They coach passionately with an emphasis on fundamentals, teamwork and discipline. The 75 youngsters play and learn for free, and they cannot wait to grow up and be Wildcats so they can have fun and play B-ball for the only hoops wife-and-husband coaching tandem in the state, if not the country.

“It’s all about run and gun and have some fun in a disciplined way,” says Awa.

She serves as an assistant to Donald’s cagers, and Donald does the same for Bobbie’s outfit. The late U.S. Rep. Patsy Mink would have been extremely proud to see how the varsity and junior varsity boys squad and the girls varsity outfit (no JV girls team) practice — drills and scrimmages are conducted in a challenging coed environment and atmosphere. Gender equity is indeed alive and well in Kealakekua, Hawaii.

“We do drills, run sprints and scrimmage the boys regularly,” says Awa.

The Awa coaching and training style is probably one of the major reasons two of Awa’s former players are starting at a Division I school in the highly competitive Pac-12 Conference. Bobbie’s daughter Dawnyelle Awa and Lia Galdeira won three state titles before moving on to Washington State. Galdeira already is the fourth all-time leading scorer in Lady Cougars history.

This year’s Wildcats edition, the No. 1 ranked team in the state, features three Molina sisters: freshman point guard Cherilyn; 5-foot-8 post Celena, a sophomore; and Chanelle, a senior who is the top player and college recruit in Hawaii. Awa says she is “the best pure basketball talent” she has tutored. The Molina trio already has drawn the attention of Rainbow Wahine basketball coach Laura Beeman, who has had her eye on the gifted Chanelle since she was a freshman. She picked up on her two younger siblings quickly upon witnessing their outstanding performance in the Iolani Classic. Perhaps with an eye toward providing a huge incentive for Chanelle to matriculate at UH to play at home with her sisters, the word is that scholarship offers were also made to Cherilyn and Celena.

As for Chanelle, she is the “real deal.” I have been in awe of her talent since we started taking her as a freshman member of Team Aloha, an all-Hawaii basketball squad I sponsor annually to compete in an elite spring tournament on the Mainland. Last year she led Team Aloha to the championship of a 64-team bracket from all over the western United States.