By KYLE GALDEIRA
Special to the Tribune-Herald
HONOLULU — While they currently play nearly 3,000 miles away from home, Dawnyelle Awa and Lia Galdeira still possess a chemistry that basketball coaches around the country would love to bottle and patent.
The former Konawaena teammates still thread outlet passes to each other, communicate via eye raises and head nods and sit side by side on the team bench during timeouts. They even share a taste of Hawaii with teammates by cooking fried rice and Korean chicken in the dormitories.
Despite trading feline mascots after graduating as Wildcats, the young Washington State Cougars have continued pursuing their hoop dreams in the Pacific Northwest. Awa and Galdeira, sophomore guards now sporting crimson and white, returned to the Islands as members of the Cougars squad that participated in the Bank of Hawaii Rainbow Wahine Classic last weekend at the Stan Sheriff Center. While Wazzou managed one victory in three tourney games, a 79-65 triumph over Ole Miss on Sunday, the trip afforded the pair a much-anticipated jaunt back home early in the non-conference season.
“It was really special to see family, we don’t get to see them a lot” said Galdeira, who now sports a tribal tattoo sleeve on her left arm. Trips back to Hawaii are rare for the student-athletes, as even the offseason break is occupied with summer school that transitions right into fall practice. The players were grateful that coach June Daugherty and her staff gave them extra time off to spend with family on the de facto homecoming journey.
Galdeira, who poured in 29 points against UH last Friday, and Awa finished their prep careers at Konawaena as two of the most decorated high school athletes the state has ever produced. The dynamic duo helped the Wildcats go undefeated throughout their Big Island Interscholastic Federation slate while winning three Hawaii High School Athletic Association state championships in four years—a span during which both players were named to the all-state team every season.
Galdeira garnered State Player of the Year honors three times during her prodigious prep career and was invited to participate in the National Team Trials for the FIBA U19 World Championship Team last May. Awa made her way to Pullman after picking up Hawaii Gatorade Girls High School Player of the Year honors as a senior, a season during which the sharpshooter sank 54 percent of her attempts from beyond the 3-point arc, and was also named BIIF Player of the Year three times.
“(The chemistry) is still here, but this year should be better because last season we still had to learn everything,” said Galdeira when asked about the transition to the collegiate game — a move that she and Awa have made seamlessly. The pair chose to attend Washington State as it was the lone school that offered to bring the players on as a tandem.
“Those two young ladies are tremendous basketball players, and I wish I had the opportunity to recruit them, but I did not,” said Hawaii head coach Laura Beeman, who took over the Rainbow Wahine program after the pair had already committed to WSU. “I don’t know if they would have stayed in Hawaii or not, but I would have loved the opportunity to try and make them. They’re good players, and it’s always fun to bring young ladies back home in front of a good crowd and an exciting environment.”
During the 2012-13 campaign, Awa was voted by her teammates as Co-Most Improved Player after leading the Cougars with 68 assists and finishing third on the team with 38 steals. Galdeira also made a habit of stuffing the stat sheet and led the team in scoring (14.8 points per game), rebounding (5.2 rebounds per game), steals (86), 3-point field goals (41), minutes played (828) and tied for second in assists (52). After leading all Pac-12 freshmen in scoring and finishing as the second-leading freshman scorer in the nation, Galdeira also earned a spot on the Pac-12 All-Freshman Team and picked up conference honorable mention honors.
Following Sunday’s game, a throng of Cougar fans smothered Awa and Galdeira, as well as their teammates, with hugs and lei. As Washington State returns home early this morning in anticipation of its home contest against Fresno State, the team will undoubtedly have the Aloha Spirit in tow.
“We know they’re always supporting us, even though they don’t get to fly up,” said Awa of the constant support provided by family, friends and fans back home. And, as Galdeira made sure to remind those hoping to catch a glimpse of the pair in action, “They can always watch us on Pac-12 (Network).”