In the most difficult of conditions, a three-peat performance was epic for the girls of Hawaii Baptist Academy.
At HBA, the “Chariots of Fire” theme song doesn’t play every morning on the intercom, but maybe it should. The Eagles’ growth in cross country over the years continues to peak. Not even the coldest, muddiest state championship meet in recent memory could stop them.
When the HBA girls and boys arrived at the Hawaii Preparatory Academy campus on a rainy Saturday morning, wind chill sent the temperature plunging to 50 degrees. Nearby Mauna Kea was already capped with snow.
Ashley Kodama and Caley Chun led HBA’s girls, who won their third Division II state championship in a row. The Eagles’ team score of 30 was enough to get past host Hawaii Prep (54) and MIL champion Seabury Hall (54).
Kodama placed ninth overall with a time of 23 minutes, 13 seconds. Chun was 16th at 24:07, and Christina Toyomura was 21st at 24:38. Jordy Davenport (30th, 25:25) and Callie Kubota (36th, 25:53) provided the rest of HBA’s top five times for the title. Natali Nomura (65th, 27:15) and Madison Callo (69th, 27:27) rounded out the Eagles’ team effort.
All seven Eagles are underclassmen.
“Our coaches told us there’d be a big hill at HPA, so we practiced on a hill we call Kama‘aina near our school all season,” said Kodama, a junior.
“The long season helped us prepare both mentally and physically, growing closer together as the season went on,” said Chun, also a junior.
“The key to our team game plan was knowing that since everyone else was going through the same thing, we just had to be tougher,” coach Shelby Tanaka said. “We practiced controlling what we could control and letting the rest go. Our team focused on trusting our coaches, pack running, running for each other and God, and having fun together.”
Tanaka, in her first year as head coach after previous seasons as an assistant, made history for HBA and statewide cross country.
“Coach Shelby is the first woman coach to ever win a Division II girls cross country state title,” Kodama noted.
Tanaka had personal experience with the hilly terrain at Hawaii prep.
“Some of our coaches ran on this course in high school, myself included, so we knew the course would be difficult. It was definitely a memorable one. It was fun because of the mud slide, and a challenge also due to the mud slide. It all took 100 percent grit to get through the course the way they did,” Tanaka said.
Coming into the state championships, the strategy was to run a neutral first mile.
“We originally planned to take it relaxed in the first mile and push the pace during the second half of the race. However, with the constant rain, we told the girls to get out really hard in the first mile where the course was more suitable to run on. We knew the course conditions after the big hill were going to make it a slower-paced race,” she said.
It was another new experience in a new era of high school sports for all competitors. The third state title tested the mettle of coaches, too.
“We didn’t know how we would fare this season with a smaller team and no seniors. However, we remained hopeful because we had dedicated runners who trained in the summer and JV girls who grew into our varsity team,” Tanaka said. “We saw consistent progression every week, making the goal of defending our D-II state title achievable. We practiced how we wanted to perform, not asking the students for anything outside of their wheelhouse, but pushing them past their comfort level to grow as runners.”
The longest of cross country seasons is finally, almost unbelievably over. The ILH began in early fall and finished up while the rest of the state began later.
“I’m relieved, but honestly, my biggest desire was to promote a culture of commitment and camaraderie. That is what makes HBA’s cross country program so special,” Tanaka said. “And I was blessed to be able to do that with this team.”
Team scoring at states is done separately between Divisions I and II. If HBA had competed in Division I, the girls team would have scored well, good enough for second place behind state champion Punahou. The tally would have been 30 points for Punahou, 100 for Hawaii Baptist and 172 for ‘Iolani.