Changing of the guard: Mindy Kawaha takes over sister’s role for Hilo girls

  • RICK OGATA photo
    Mindy Kawaha will play point guard this season for Hilo High in the challenging BIIF D-I.

HILO – Last season, Waiakea finally traded places with Hilo, which had been Konawaena’s shadow on the basketball court.

From 2013 to ’17, the Vikings finished as the BIIF Division I runner-up, and the Warriors stayed home from the HHSAA tournament, stewing and working to build late-game toughness.

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It all came together for Waiakea in the BIIF semifinals in January with a 55-49 victory over Hilo, which graduated its top ball-handler in Mandi Kawaha.

The Vikings have her sister back, Mindy Kawaha, to run the point, and she’s surrounded by returning starters Jamila Collins-Ebanez, Tatiana Rideout, and Asia Castillo.

Samm Brewer, who came off the bench last season, will fill a post role with Rideout, and Waiakea transfer Keani Midel provides much-needed depth.

The lineup is even deeper with two promising freshmen: Keirstyn Agonias, the niece of former Hilo standout Vicky Tagalicod, who signed with USC and played at Hawaii, and Veda Galima.

Behind its press defense and uptempo attack, Hilo hammered Ka‘u 84-11 at the Waiakea tournament on Friday at the Warriors Gym.

Agonias and Galima fit the profile of the typical Viking, a floor burner who can handle the ball, defend without fouling and make something happen with or without the ball.

Agonias scored 15 points against the Trojans, who finished 1-9 last year in Division II. Castillo and Galima, who knocked down three 3-pointers, also finished with 15 points.

The two freshmen play well off each other when they share the court. They dribble, cut, and find open shots for each other or the bigs. Their ball-sharing is already an asset, another typical Viking strength.

Brewer led the way with 16 points. She cleaned the glass and pumped in putbacks to get her scoring, and the guards fed her the ball in prime spots in the paint, where she could turn and fire bankers.

Teijah Rosas-Suenishi sank four 3-balls and had 14 points. When Hilo ran its transition attack, she spotted up, spaced the floor and nailed open shots. If there was a miss, Brewer got another putback opportunity.

Chaunalisa Velez had four points to lead Ka‘u. Reishalyn Kekoa-Jara and Heidi Vidal had three points each.

In the tourney’s final round, the Vikings and Warriors meet at 6:30 p.m. Saturday to put a measuring stick next to each other.

Hilo’s biggest challenge is running its press-break offense against Waiakea’s bear traps.

If the Warriors run a vanilla defense (unlikely because it’s a statement game), then the Vikings need to find a way to poke holes and knock down open shots. Hilo didn’t really practice its half-court sets against Ka‘u.

There are three huge questions for Hilo to answer in the rematch.

Can Kawaha or someone else get dribble-drive penetration against Kelsie Imai and Zaelynn Lui-Cabinatan, two of the league’s top on-ball defenders?

Can the Vik shooters hit open jumpers and free throws? Last season, they had a low shooting clip and missed a bunch of free throws in the semifinals.

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Can Brewer or Rideout muscle up shots against the post defense of Jazelle Dorser and Keeli-Jade Smith?

Those three questions will get answered soon enough and will come up again, most likely in the BIIF postseason.

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