Chanelle Molina plays basketball at Konawaena, and knows one big key for team success — both on and off the court — is rebounding.
Last year, as a freshman, she led the Wildcats in scoring in every game at the Hawaii High School Athletic Association Division I state tournament, but Kamehameha-Kapalama prevailed 45-39 in the championship game.
The sharp-shooting guard turned that tearful experience into a lesson of perseverance, and it served as a source of motivation eight months later.
At McKinley High’s gym on Oahu, Molina pounded the most kills in every game, and the Wildcats beat Hawaii Preparatory Academy to capture the Division II girls volleyball state title, the school’s first, in a historic matchup of Big Island Interscholastic Federation teams.
The 5-foot-6 sophomore outside hitter had a run of dominance with 28 kills against HPA in four sets, 18 kills against Waimea in a semifinal sweep, and 28 kills against University High in four sets in the quarterfinals.
Molina was named the Most Outstanding Player. Her freshman sister Celena Molina, a setter/hitter, landed on the All-Tournament team along with Konawaena senior setter Makani Wall and libero Ela Seier.
“Last year, I kept everything to myself,” Molina said. “This year, I kept my emotions, but turned it into happiness to lift everyone’s spirits up. It’s a relief, knowing all that hard work resulted in a state title.
“The last time, HPA beat us for the BIIF title. Playing them again at states, that was a big motivation and we wanted to win that state title.”
Either the Wildcats (18-3) or Ka Makani (15-4) guaranteed the BIIF would bring home its first state title since 1974, when Hilo won.
The Interscholastic League of Honolulu teams — Saint Francis, Hawaii Baptist and Sacred Hearts — had pocketed seven of the previous eight state crowns. The only interruption was 2010, when Molokai swept University, another ILH school.
But this time around, the BIIF was better. HPA knocked off two-time defending champion Saint Francis in a semifinal sweep. Konawaena took down ILH champion and No. 1 seed University in the quarterfinals.
BIIF, family win
Like Molina, sophomore middle blocker McKenna Ventura thought a turning point was falling to HPA in the BIIF championship. The Wildcats not only learned to pick themselves back up, but they also rebounded and played their best games at states.
“HPA helped us to grow that hunger in us for the state banner,” Ventura said. “Winning states is a dream come true. I can’t wait to be able to look back years from now, and tell everyone I was part of the Konawaena girls first volleyball team to win states.
“I believe the title just opens doors for the Big Island. This title not only benefits Konawaena, but all of the teams in the BIIF. This shows the entire state that we have talent just like everyone else, and the will to win.”
Wall also experienced a sister act but for only one year. She and her older sister Anuhea were Wildcat volleyball teammates. The 2011 Konawaena graduate is now at Pacific University.
“I played with her my freshman year when she was a senior,” Wall said. “But we didn’t make it to states.”
Several months later, the Wall sisters made it to states for basketball. Konawaena defeated Punahou for the state title in 2011, the only other time they were teammates. Makani was on the 2012 state championship team as a sophomore; Anuhea was on the 2009 state champion.
Wall changed sports and played soccer as a junior last year. She’s planning to play soccer again. Her cousin Kaua Wall, a 2009 Konawaena graduate, was a striker at Hawaii Pacific. Another cousin and Kaua’s sister Lehua Wall, a 2011 Kamehameha-Kapalama graduate, was a goalie at the University of Hawaii at Hilo.
“I wanted to blaze my own trail and not follow in my sister’s shadow,” said Makani Wall, who knows a thing or two about perseverance. “We were the BIIF runner-up the last three years, and losing in the BIIF championship this year was a huge disappointment. But winning the state title feels amazing.”
The Wildcats pocketed BIIF volleyball titles in 1997 and ’98, long before statewide classification started in 2005. They lose only two starters in Wall and Seier. The rest of the starters — the Molina sisters, middles Ventura and Kaela Avanilla and opposite hitter Ihi Victor — are back.
Next year, Konawaena will get reinforcements with three more sister acts. Cherilyn Molina will be a freshman defender, McKayla Ventura will be a freshman outside hitter, and Tori Victor, who played on the junior varsity, will add height to the team’s block as a 5-8 sophomore middle.
Chanelle Molina provided a scouting report on the next wave of volleyball Wildcats.
“Cherilyn is athletic. She’s about 5-1 and basketball is her first sport like me,” Molina said. “She’s quick to the ball, faster than me. Tori played on the JV. She’s really tall and her height will make her a good blocker. McKayla is about 5-6 and she’s got a good swing.”
With added depth all competing for playing time, McKenna Ventura believes the youthful Wildcats will only get better.
“Having my younger sister finally be able to play high school volleyball with me gives me chicken skin,” she said. “She loves the game just as much as me, and works hard. Both my sister and Cherilyn, the Molina’s youngest sister, have always been feisty. Those two girls and now Tori Victor have fire in their eyes. They’re always pushing to be better than us, their older sisters.
“HPA gave us a run for our money. The Big Island can be proud that either way a state banner was brought home after 39 years.”