There may not be a more physically talented group in the state.
The Maryknoll softball team has three nationally-ranked players and and a busload of future college players. Coach John Uekawa marvels at his team’s skill level, but the young Spartans are already on the clock as their Interscholastic League of Honolulu opener ramps up.
Maryknoll meets an robust Mid-Pacific squad on Saturday morning at the Owls’ field. Spectators will not be permitted, per COVID-19 restrictions. Mid-Pacific won at home against Sacred Hearts, 19-9, earlier in the week.
The shortened preseason, with no tournaments and games, has been a jolt for coaches and players.
“Yeah, this year is a very unusual year for me, to be very, very honest,” Uekawa said. “One of the few years where it’s probably the best team, player for player, I’ve ever had.”
Sherreigh Nakoa-Chung will take the mound for Maryknoll. “Ua” is a 5-foot-5, 156-pound junior.
Catcher Liliana Thomas signed with Arizona State, coming off a third consecutive Gatorade player of the year honor.
First base is a puzzle of sorts, though Maryknoll has ample talent to fill the gap.
“We don’t really have a first baseman. We have Jenna Sniffen, a freshman. She is the bomb. She’s the 26th- or 27th-best third baseman in the nation,” Uekawa noted. “But I’m trying to convert her (to first base). We have three top-30 players in the nation playing on our team. Jenna already got invited to try out for the Junior Olympic team.”
Second baseman Carys Murakami was an All-ILH selection in 2019.
Logan Gaspar is settling in at shortstop as Nellie McEnroe-Marinas moves to third base.
“Pac-12 (Conference) teams are looking at Nellie. She’s a sophomore, a little injured and may have to play third,” Uekawa said. “Logan is an extremely intelligent person. She’s going to the East Coast. She’s got almost 60 college credits and she’s going in as a junior.”
In the outfield, Breli Agbayani-Shibao will play left. Mahalo Akaka, a returning All-State selection and multi-sport standout, is in center. Right field, Uekawa notes, is “up for grabs.”
“Mua (Day-Lee Williams) is going to be something special. She is so physically talented that she’s ahead of her mind. She can run and she’s got everything. She goes all out, diving for balls and never played outfield before,” he said. “Her love for the game is unbelievable.”
The roster is comprised for 14 players, a lower number than usual because Maryknoll is fielding a Division II squad. Still, versatility across the board gives the Spartans good options.
“I have four legit pitchers who can come in and throw strikes. They all have their own styles,” Uekawa said, noting that Sniffen throws in the 60s. “Her wrist, it’s a strain or something. Maybe she’ll pitch in mid-season.”
In a scrimmage with Campbell, Maryknoll battled to a scoreless tie against Sabers ace Taryn Irimata.
“Good hitting always beats good hitting. We are a decent hitting team. We show brilliance sometimes, but we show signs of a flat tire sometimes. Overall, defensively, we’re pretty strong,” he said. “(Irimata) one-hit us. We got two walks. They had us full base two times and we got out of it. That showed me a lot.”
There won’t be any breaks in the ILH. Even Sacred Hearts is flush with depth and added talent after absorbing eight players from Pac-Five.
“We’re not veterans. You get good players and put them on the field, they can perform, but in critical times, you need to gain experience. It’s a very competitive high-level state. You need to know what to do before you get the ball,” Uekawa said.
For all of the ILH’s power and parity, coming up clutch through the regular season and playoffs will matter.
“Everybody’s tough. I think it’s all going to come down to timely hitting. Pitching, you won’t see someone (in the ILH) like (Irimata) who can take control of a game,” Uekawa said. “Everything in softball is about timing. Timely hitting, making the play when you need to make the play.”
Note: Mid-Pacific defeated Sacred Hearts, 19-9. An incorrect score was posted earlier.