In the blink of an eye, Shelby Tanaka has gone from elite cross country runner to mountain-moving coach.
Hawaii Baptist Academy’s run to the ILH cross country championship on Saturday broke new ground for a program that Tanaka ran for just 11 years ago. The Eagles edged perennial powerhouse Punahou, securing their first league title since 2019.
Senior Ashley Kodama led Hawaii Baptist’s fab five and placed third overall at 20 minutes, 42 seconds. Senior Caley Chun (20:52, fifth), senior Christina Toyomura (21:30, 10th), junior Madison Callo (21:59, 12th) and sophomore Natali Nomura (22:18, 15th) rounded out HBA’s top five harriers. Junior Callie Kubota (23:13) placed 27th overall and senior Jordy Davenport (23:20) was 29th.
“We knew we had a strong team, but I don’t know if any of us expected to become ILH champions,” Tanaka said. “We were hopeful, but I’m not sure we expected every girl to have such fierce running all on the same day together. To watch them execute the race strategy so well was just wow! These ladies were everything. Consistent in the thick of the season, showed perseverance throughout, and brave in this past race at ILH championships all while having fun and doing it together for each other.”
Kodama gets plenty of confidence from coach Tanaka.
“Everything she does for us, you can tell she really cares. She finds ways to make us feel better. Visualize. We’ll have talks together. She understands what it’s like being a runner, being a student-athlete. Emphasizing rest and most of our coaches ran cross country, so they know the struggles,” she said. “Our coaches take a lot of time out of their schedules to make sure we’re OK.”
Kodama and Chun were part of the ’19 ILH title team.
“It’s kind of the same, but different. When I was a freshman I got third. The team has developed well. We got really close this year. It’s a good experience that we were able to work hard throughout the season and accomplish this,” Kodama said.
Chun believes the Eagles’ emphasis on unity helps.
“We believe in pack running, training together and staying together. We all have the same abilities,” she said. “During the race, I don’t think our coaches knew. All our teams are close. ‘Iolani and Punahou have a lot of runners in the top 10. Our fifth runner, Natalie, moved up a lot. It was a really good breakthrough race for her.”
HBA finished with 44 points, ahead of Punahou (51), ‘Iolani (59), Kamehameha (108), Hanalani (122), Mid-Pacific (131) and Sacred Hearts (192).
Punahou’s Izzy Ford captured the individual title with a time of 20:18) on the hilly Mid-Pacific course. Malia Healing, an ‘Iolani junior, placed second at 20:37.
‘Iolani senior Emma Wharton-Hsieh (20:47, fourth), Punahou senior Sasha Iizuka-Sheeley (20:55, sixth), Mid-Pacific sophomore Sophia May (21:11, seventh), Punahou junior Noelle Lezy (21:20, eighth) and Kamehameha junior Madison Murata (21:28, ninth) rounded out the top 10.
‘Iolani’s talented young runner, freshman Logan Pang, placed 11th (21:57).
The course at states, the campus of Island School on Kauai, is flat terrain.
“I’m looking forward to it. I’ve been working on downhills and carrying through, cresting hills. When it’s flat, I can go faster, I’m very excited for the team. We can really do good this weekend.
For seniors Chun and Kodama, Saturday morning’s finale will mark the end of a memorable chapter.
“We used to run 30 to 40 miles a week. Me and Ashley have been training partners for six years now,” Chun said. “We read each other really well. We’re really good at knowing how each other runs, so that helps with strategies. When I’m having a bad day, she’ll pick me up and when she’s having a bad day, I’ll pick her up. We know how important this is, and we train through the mental and physical blocks.”
Tanaka has the utmost respect for the small Eagles team.
“We have a varsity team of only seven runners, which leaves little to no error for any injuries, sicknesses, mental blocks or setbacks. It has been a balancing act between pushing them in their training while keeping them healthy and motivated,” Tanaka said. “The varsity girls, particularly the seniors, have really taken it upon themselves to be leaders to our younger ones. These girls as.a group are definitely some of the most dedicated runners I’ve seen. They not only push themselves, but each other to be better runners. I was constantly impressed by their efforts at practice, performance on race days and courage to step up when it mattered the most.”