Aiea softball team moves up to Division I, reluctantly

Aiea celebrated the program's first state championship in Division II softball in 2017. Just two seasons later, Na Alii is in Division I. Photo by Dennis Oda/Star-Advertiser

Aiea is up to Division I from D-II in softball this year.

It’s not the exact place coach Alan Higuchi and his Na Alii want to be, but they’re going to do the best they can.

“If it was by choice, I would choose Division II,” Higuchi said via cell phone on Friday. “Our school enrollment is dropping. Whereas in the past we would have 1,200 students, it’s down to 980. It’s hard to compete with schools that have three times the enrollment.”

According to the coach, the typical Aiea player is not a year-round softball person. A handful play club softball, but, the coach said, at some schools, most or all play club.

“We have many dual participation players,” Higuchi said. “Some are paddling, others play volleyball, soccer or track.”

Higuchi also said that using inexperienced players is a safety issue and cited an example of an inexperienced pitcher or third baseman in the line of a zooming line drive by one of the top D-I power hitters.

The good news for Na Alii is that there are lots of players (20 on the varsity roster), even though many are inexperienced.

“We don’t have multiple players that can play shortstop and second base and other important position,” Higuchi said. “And we recently lost one player to grades. When that happens, everybody has to move around.

“As for the challenge, it’s going to be a good experience for the players to have the opportunity to play in the highest division.”

Third baseman/outfielder Trinity Atuatasi, catcher/pitcher Mikelle Gonzales, senior infielder/pitcher Jaenah Padasao, and utility player Mikayla Gonzalez are among the team leaders.

Higuchi, who has been at the helm of the Aiea squad for 12 years, is waiting to get through the OIA’s first round before he and his team decide on what their goals are.

“We’ll come up with realistic goals at that time,” he added. “We haven’t been in Division I in six years.”

Two years ago, Na Alii won the D-II state title. A year ago, they lost in the first round at states.

Aiea opened with a 12-2, six-inning loss to powerhouse Campbell, which checked in at No. 1 — up from No. 3 — in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s Top 10 poll Monday.

Na Alii then lost 10-0 in five innings to Waianae on Saturday.

Aiea looks to get on the winning track Tuesday at Pearl City.

Only one team — Nanakuli — from the OIA West moved down to D-II as part of the OIA’s two-year cycle of moving a few teams up and down. Waianae, by virtue of its record over the last two seasons, was also scheduled to go down but — per league rules — opted to stay up.

In the OIA East, Kalani and Kaimuki moved up to D-I, and Farrington and Kalaheo moved down to D-II.


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