Kohala Cowgirls Basketball

It’ll feel somewhat like Groundhog Day for Kohala, which will repeat a familiar routine for girls basketball.

The Cowgirls will likely finish with a record around .500 and earn a spot in the four-team BIIF playoffs. They’ll beat the teams they need to beat. And they’re already right on course with wins over Hawaii Prep, Ka’u, and Pahoa.

But it won’t be the same old, same old — not by a long shot.

Unlike a year ago, they’ll probably face Honokaa, which dropped down to Division II, in the BIIF semifinals, and coach Jacob Hook has a short bench with just two reserves.

Of the seven players on the roster, five are seniors: returning starters CJ Agbayani and Zaz Matsu, plus Angel Ramos, Cheyenne Fuertes, and Maya Anderson.

Sophomore guard Jasmine Hook is the other returning starter while Ramos and Kiana Kauka will also start.

Mikayla Kekoa, a junior post, has decided to concentrate on softball, and Shania Fuertes and Cheylin Imai will play club volleyball. The depth took another hit when injuries sidelined sophomores Kaila Emeliano (ACL), who’s out for the season, and Kaya Galan (foot injury).

After a perfect start, the schedule has turned into a Murder’s Row for Kohala, which faced the blitzing ball-pressure and floor speed of Waiakea and suffered a 54-14 loss on Friday night at the Warriors Gym.

Kohala’s schedule doesn’t get any easier. In fact, it’ll be gut-check time week after week until the postseason. Next Friday, it’s a road trip to battle Konawaena.

The following week, Honokaa comes for a visit. Then it’s a doubleheader of difficulty with a visit to Hilo and a home date against Kamehameha.

The second-year coach isn’t concerned. As the great philosopher Bill Belichick once said, “It is what it is.” Hook knows the deal.

“We’re OK. We’re about where we were last year,” he said. “We’ve got good leadership. They’ve been playing together for a while now. They’re pretty close and have good chemistry and teamwork.

“CJ has taken a leadership role. She has always been quiet. She’s a little more vocal this year. All the seniors know what to expect. They work well together.”

At 5 feet 9, Kauka is the only post, so the Cowgirls will look to her for rebounds and inside scoring. Agbayani will also clean the glass and provide a floor presence with her experience.

“CJ is a four-year starter. She has the best basketball IQ,” Hook said. “She’s traveled with the Stingrays club team for a couple of summers. CJ will go into the post, and she’s good inside and out.

“Kiana is good in the post. She’s good all-around, can handle the ball, shoot outside and pass. But mostly, we’ll keep her inside.”

Getting scoring runs and defensive stops are bread-and-butter basics. The coach’s daughter will be in charge of starting the offense at point guard and Matsu, who led the Cowgirls with five points Friday, as the primary defender for neutralizing the other team’s top threat.

 The ball flow is expected to be better in Hook’s second season with so many seniors. Hook also knows that communication and court awareness — the keys to help-side defense — can overcome a lot of drawbacks.

“Jasmine will be at the point and control the flow of the game,” he said. “Zaz will take care of the other team’s ball-handler for us. We’ll put her on the best offensive player.

“We’re not athletic or fast, but we play pretty good help-side defense. Maya and Cheyenne will be off the bench, and they’ll pretty much play a lot. We only have seven on our junior varsity. Unfortunately, our seven is not like Konawaena’s seven. We’re OK with our seven.”

Last year, Kohala had a roster of 10 players. It’s a new season with a familiar feeling. If the Cowgirls turn into groundhogs again and follow their routine, their season will boil down to an expected battle against the Dragons in the postseason.

“I think we’ll come out of this like last year at 5-5. It doesn’t matter if we’re the No. 2 or No. 3 seed,” Hook said. “HPA looks so much better than last year. They might end up as the No. 4 seed. Honokaa is good.”

The old coaching line of “One game at a time” sounds nice. But Kohala is ready for the job ahead: learn from the Murder’s Row schedule, improve and peak for the circled date on the calendar: Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2018.

That’s the day of the BIIF semifinals at Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium. The Cowgirls have been to the HHSAA tournament four of the last five years. The Dragons will likely be standing in the way, but Kohala already knows the deal: It is what it is.

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