Pana sisters

Sisters Alexis Pana and Aliyah Pana run onto the court prior to a Central Washington University women’s basketball game.

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It wasn’t long before Aliyah Pana to decide she wanted to move away from Ocean County College in New Jersey. But she didn’t exactly want to move back home — Hilo, Hawaii that is.

Aliyah had a sentiment to reunite with her sister, Alexis Pana, at Central Washington University with the women’s basketball team. The two have grown up together on and off the court, competing in a couple state championships together during high school as well.

Once Aliyah graduated high school in 2014, two years before her sister, she stayed put, redshirting at University of Hawaii Hilo. And much like Alexis, she wanted to venture off the island and to study on the main land.

The 2013 Gatorade Player of the Year of Hawaii transferred to Ocean County but decided after two years there, it was enough and former CWU head coach Jeff Harada brought her in — but as a team manager.

“After I moved here, I said ‘I am going to focus on school,’” Aliyah said.

But knowing it was her last year as eligibility, a fifth-year senior, and her last opportunity to be with her sister on the court — Aliyah inclined to play.

“I think she just misses the game,” Alexis said. “She’s always at the gym, she always sees us practicing and I think she just missed it ... missed being out on the court, being able to shoot, being able to play.”

FAMILY FIRST

Their father, Ben Pana, was a basketball guru.

He introduced his daughters to the game, as he once earned some state titles at Hilo High School during his heyday. But didn’t get them into it until Alexis was 8 years old and Aliyah was 10.

Both were involved with hula until their teacher said they had to choose between hula or basketball. It was a simple decision for the sisters, as they focused on basketball. Alexis did end up still having a couple stints after with hula under a different coach but it was inevitable she would eventually put all her time into basketball.

And their father has been their coach all the way up until high school. Aliyah had him all four years, but Ben stepped down Alexis’ senior year, as she believed he wanted to take on just the father role her last season.

With the sisters a couple years apart when they were younger, he was coaching both separate age groups. But both age groups got to practice and travel together.

“It was all my dad … everything was my dad,” Alexis said.

Alexis and Aliyah have always clicked together whether that was playing or not. Alexis, being the younger sibling stated she always turned to Aliyah when things weren’t going right.

They made it to state twice during Aliyah’s last two years of high school and Alexis added two more appearances after her sister graduated.

“Having two of us together and my dad being the coach, it kind of helped take pressure off me because he would yell at her too — not just me,” said Alexis laughing.

Alexis motivated her sister to vie once last time together before Aliyah graduates this spring with a major in applied mathematics.

It was awkward for Aliyah when she played her first couple years without Alexis — and even more so because she was on the East Coast.

“I’m really excited to be playing with her, I really missed it especially after I graduated high school,” Aliyah said.

HOT START

Aliyah took a two-year hiatus from the game and hasn’t been given much playing time this 2018-19 season, but has brought a lot to the table with her basketball IQ as a former manager.

No. 25 CWU has been off to a torrid start with a 6-1 record.

“It has been really fun having her out there,” Alexis said. “Manager wise, because she has that basketball IQ. She would always talk to me after the game and make comments about what I could do better what she sees on the court.”

Alexis on the other hand, currently leads the Wildcats in points per game (13.7) and steals (16). She has knocked down over 50 percent of her 3-point attempts. The junior earned All-Great Northwest Athletic Conference (GNAC) Honorable Mention last year where she averaged 10.1 points per game and tallied 30 steals on the season.

Her most prodigious contest was against Alaska Fairbanks on Dec. 1 in a bounce back win after they endured their first loss of the year versus Alaska Anchorage. Alexis added 19 points, six assists and five rebounds.

ASPIRATIONS

Aliyah plans on pursuing a master’s degree after this spring in sports stats, but is still unsure where. Alexis, having one more academic year after this one, is planning on graduating in graphic design and moving back home afterwards.

“I kind of want to go somewhere warmer,” said Aliyah chuckling.

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