Hawaii Baptist is an underdog in boys volleyball for the first time in a long time and coach Teoni Obrey is loving it.
Winning nine of the last 10 state Division II championships is a good feeling too, but the Eagles are up on a higher level now.
Lumps will appear — and they’ve already started appearing on the team’s proverbial forehead — before the Hawaii volleyball world finds out if the school will flounder or succeed in D-I. But Obrey and his boys are not going to put too much stock in Tuesday night’s 25-17, 25-23 home loss to ‘Iolani in the ILH season opener.
“It wasn’t until the end of the first set when we found somewhat of a rhythm,” Obrey said. “In Set 2, we calmed down and did some things that we normally do. It was a good test. We’ll go to the practice gym, move forward and try to get better. I can see that an outside observer may see us as a small school that might not have the stature or overall athleticism as other schools. But as an inside observer who sees them every day, if we are capable of fixing a few things, I think we’ll be right in the mix.”
This is not the first time the Eagles are playing in the top tier. They were in D-I in 2006, the last time both the boys and girls seasons were in the fall. In the following season for the HBA boys team (spring 2008), it was back to D-II, where they started their incredible run.
“Our primary reason for opting to move to D-I in the ILH was the growing discrepancy between the competitive levels of the two divisions,” Eagles athletic director Deren Oshiro said. “We are still comfortable in our identity as a small school, rooted in our Christian mission that keeps athletics in perspective and competes organically. But while we have had taller, more physical teams in the past, I just felt like this was the right move at the right time for boys volleyball. It may also benefit our league.”
Michael Johnson, a Honolulu Star-Advertiser Fab 15 selection last season, had 12 kills against the Raiders, Eric Wong added seven, and Davin Rausch had 21 assists. Obrey said the efficient middle game of ‘Iolani’s Cole Hogland was a major factor in the outcome.
“As a group, they definitely wanted the challenge (of being in D-I) and are looking forward to it,” Obrey said. “This is a great opportunity to stretch them and show some growth. We want to show that we can play good volleyball and push schools that maybe have a tradition in the sport. We’re playing to win and we want to be a factor for the league championship and have an opportunity to play at states. It is our goal and it should be our goal.”
The Hawaii Preparatory Academy boys soccer team is a good example of finding immediate success after moving up a level. Earlier this month, Ka Makani shared the D-I state title with Baldwin after being the class of D-II for years.
The biggest difference in the move up, according to Obrey is that all of the opponents now have more experienced players.
“Fifty percent or more of rosters in ILH D-I have players who are committed, year-round players,” he said. “In D-II, we were one of the few who had year-round players or experience at almost every position. In the past, we hadn’t seen many opponents come in with a game plan and execute it. We’ve always been one of the most consistent teams. Now, we have to not only be consistent, but we have to execute every time.”