Maryknoll seizes the throne, winning first softball state crown

The Maryknoll Spartans captured the 2022 softball state championship, outlasting rival ‘Iolani in the title game, 5-2, at Rainbow Wahine Softball Stadium. Paul Honda/Star-Advertiser (May 12, 2022).

Marvin Malczon gives free hugs.

That is, hugs to the Datahouse/HHSAA Softball State Championships koa trophy. Moments before the longtime Maryknoll assistant coach bear-hugged the koa trophy, head coach John Uekawa pointed at his friend.

“Marvin has been with me from day one,” Uekawa said after the Lady Spartans toppled ILH champion and top-seeded ‘Iolani, 5-2, for the state title.


Malczon laid on his back, nestled on the grass near the dugout, clutching the trophy. A few minutes earlier, at least half the team had taken turns kissing that same koa trophy. Malczon was in the prolonged embrace of a long-lost friend.

It took Uekawa, Malczon and the Spartans crew 16 years of time and energy to get to the mountain top. Along the way, they built a home-field facility from scratch at Sand Island, won six ILH titles, sent dozens of outstanding players to the next level. But not a single appearance in the state final until Thursday night.

Uekawa wasn’t quite as demonstrative as Malczon, but was quite grateful.

“I’m thankful for the coaching staff, for their time and effort. It was totally a team effort, and you cannot lead with a great wife (Sally Uekawa) supporting you and my wife is that,” he said.

Jenna Sniffen moved from the hot corner, third base, to the pitcher’s circle as a sophomore. In regular season and postseason play, she went 10-2 as Maryknoll captured its first softball state championship. Paul Honda/Star-Advertiser (May 12, 2022).

Maryknoll’s starting lineup vs. ‘Iolani
May 12, 2022
#20 Carys Murakami, 2B
#18 Breli Agbayani-Shibao, CF
#11 Nelly McEnroe-Marinas, SS
#18 Jenna Sniffen, P
#42 Makena Nera, 3B
#8 Ua Nakoa-Chung, 1B
#14 Chloe Chung, RF
#22 Kayla Whaley, DP
#7 Haylee Cathcart, C
#3 Jayce Simpliciano, Flex/LF

‘Iolani won the 2018 and ’19 state titles. Then COVID and a cancelled ’20 season. Then an ILH season in ’21, won by Maryknoll, but no state tourney. Then Maryknoll and ‘Iolani go unbeaten at the ’22 Mililani Classic, but ‘Iolani opts out after playing seven games in seven days and Maryknoll beats host Mililani for the tourney title.

Then Maryknoll opens ILH play 1-3. Then, the Spartans start winning, gain momentum and a protest is filed by multiple ILH teams regarding a roster addition. The protest was denied by the league, according to two coaches.

Then ‘Iolani travels to Arizona, wins every game but one (against host Hamilton) and the ILH schedule has a gap. Then the Raiders win the regular season. Then, a hot Spartans squad wins the playoff tourney. Then ‘Iolani stomps Maryknoll, 15-6, for the ILH crown.

Then, then, then…

“It’s almost like a miracle,” Uekawa said.

Wins over Leilehua (11-6), Baldwin (13-2) and Kapolei (9-2). The Spartans finally got to the front gate, stormed the castle and seized the throne.

There are a thousand, maybe 10,000 thens prior to 2021 for one of the most competitive programs in the state. In a season with a dearth of elite starting pitchers, the Spartans saw one elevate in their midst. Jenna Sniffen, throwing darts in wins over ‘Iolani as Maryknoll’s stock arrowed up, up, up. Then the Raiders send the sophomore reeling back down to earth in the ILH final.

Sniffen used that ILH title loss as more fuel to work on a filthy, untouchable screwball. Sheary and Vince Labasan went to the lab with Sniffen, harnessing an already promising pitch and adding doses of vibranium to it.

Second baseman Carys Murakami and shortstop Nelly McEnroe-Marinas provided a formidable 1-2 combo on the diamond and at the plate for Maryknoll. Paul Honda/Star-Advertiser (May 12, 2022).

By the time the state tourney began on Monday, Sniffen was ready to unleash it. By Thursday, on a windy night in Rainbow Wahine Softball Stadium, one of the most refined hitters in the state — Ailana Agbayani — smashed a Sniffen pitch for a two-run home run. Then she couldn’t do any more damage.

When the two squared off in the fifth and seventh innings, Sniffen refused to offer another pitch in Agbayani’s comfort zone. Instead, that screwball tailed to an extreme. Now you see it, now you don’t.

Ten strikeouts in any game is a feat. Ten whiffs by ‘Iolani is not just unlikely. It is nearly impossible. The lineup is virtually top to bottom leadoff-hitter material with some power at the No. 2 spot (Agbayani) and power plus speed at No. 3 (Allie Capello). Speed to burn. A bunters convention on game days.

But that screwball was tough on bunters, too. With the corners drawn in often, the Raiders swung away. Once, they missed a sacrifice bunt with two strikes. But pitching and defense alone don’t win championships.

Sniffen’s three-run shot in the first inning altered the game dynamics. When Nelly McEnroe-Marinas belted a two-run shot later, all the Raiders could do was hope for the long ball. Sniffen made sure it wouldn’t happen again.

McEnroe-Marinas played with poise just days after her four-month-old nephew, Xavier, passed away. Every home run in the quarterfinals, semifinals and title game was followed by a tap of the heart and a finger pointing to the sky, not just by McEnroe-Marinas, but all her teammates. The heart stickers on their helmets. The wave of emotion solidified an already tight squad.

After the celebration, her courageous smile finally gave way to tears.

“Maybe Xavier’s watching over me. I just felt good. Something came over me and I just felt like we’re going to take this game,” she said.

McEnroe batted .692 in the state tournament (9-for-13) with three HRs, one double, 11 RBIs and seven runs scored in four games. The Oklahoma commit had on-base percentage of .765 thanks to three walks and one hit-by-pitch.

Her middle-infield tag-team partner, second baseman Carys Murakami, also had a standout state tourney, finishing with a 2-for-3 night, scoring twice against ‘Iolani. The senior finished the week batting .500 (8-for-16), right about her season batting average, and scored 11 runs in four games.

“It feels surreal. I can’t believe that this is really happening. This is our end goal and we reached it,” Murakami said. “Jen did great in the circle. We faced great pitching in Allie (Capello) and Ailana, but we made our adjustments and came out with the win. That’s a really good feeling.”


The risks and rewards of every decision in a hitter-friendly era of softball were never larger than the one the Spartans made in that bottom of the seventh when Agbayani had her turn.

“The thought process was, are we going give her nothing to hit, fill the bases with Capello coming up as the one swing of the bat to win the game? No, we had to pitch to her. At this point in time, that little screwy was working,” Uekawa said. “And Jenna struck her out twice!”

Sniffen played third base during the ILH season a year ago. Uekawa noted that the then-freshman had great potential as a pitcher. When the ’22 season arrived, she got her chance while senior Ua Nakoa-Chung battled a finger injury. The first half of the ILH season was a bit of a learning curve as she became a starting pitcher.

In Sniffen’s first six regular-season appearances, she was 4-1 in 34 2/3 innings pitched with a respectable 4.04 ERA, including 18 strikeouts and 20 walks. Since then, eight of her appearances were more effective: 6-1 in 48 2/3 innings, a 2.45 ERA with 46 strikeouts and 30 walks.

That includes a valuable lesson in the ILH title game when ‘Iolani scorched Sniffen for 11 runs (nine earned) in 4 1/3 innings. Adversity made her better. At the state tourney, she was 3-0 in four appearances; Nakoa-Chung earned a quarterfinal win against Baldwin. In 24 innings at RWSS, Sniffen had a 2.33 ERA with 24 strikeouts and 13 walks.

That screwball got better over the course of the season. It peaked on state championship night.

“Way back when, about seven, eight years ago, we had Shearyna Labasan. The parents taught ‘Ryna how to pitch,” Uekawa said. “Sheary came on board and taught them the spin. We were throwing fastball, change-up because that’s what (Sniffen) could throw. Then we developed it all season long and that’s what we got.”

Sheary Labasan was a pitcher at Leilehua and UH-Hilo. Sniffen knew her screwball had potential. Labasan helped her master it. The ‘Iolani Raiders weren’t the only ones startled by the break on Sniffen’s ‘screwy.’

“It’s a hard pitch to explain. It’s just like in the moment, obviously Ailana’s a really good hitter,” Sniffen said. “For me to be able to get her (out), it’s just something that’s big for us. Towards the end of the game, (the umpire) definitely tightened up the zone, but I just needed to work harder. To Haylee (Cathcart, senior catcher), I credit her a lot of my success because she worked hard for those strikes, especially with the tight zone throughout the entire season.”

Sniffen also served her team well at the plate, batting .400 (6-for-15) with six RBIs and two runs scored in four state-tourney games.

In 2023, Maryknoll will miss this group of seven seniors, but Sniffen will be back. So will McEnroe-Marinas. What was a roster of 11 players for most of the ’22 season will have an influx of talent from the Spartans’ junior varsity team.

Uekawa was still in coach mode as players and assistant coaches basked in their title glow. The slow start in a rugged ILH gauntlet was, perhaps, the best way for the Spartans to refocus and sustain a competitive edge. When they were 1-3, Uekawa said that was not who the Spartans were.

“I don’t think even ’til this day they hit their potential yet. Is that being honest? We played them five times already. Them tearing up the OIA (at the state tournament), I could see it, but at the same time we know how tough they are. We knew it was going to be a battle all the way,” he said.

In ’23, the war of softball empires Maryknoll and ‘Iolani may be no more. ‘Iolani will graduate a vast pool of talent this spring, including Agbayani and Capello.

For now, the trophy is in Uekawa’s hands.

“I had to pull it away from him,” he said. “But, on Monday, he will have it.”

COMMENTS

  1. Coach/fan May 14, 2022 9:10 am

    Congrats to the best recruited team in the state. Coach Uekawa is right up there with Nick Saban in getting the top recruits to come play for him.
    And please, don’t comment about “Where’s your proof?” Ask any coach on the island, and they’ll tell you the same thing. Such a shame that Maryknoll has to win it like this.


  2. Opinion May 14, 2022 10:27 am

    Have you checked the rosters of the other ILH teams? If not you should. One basketball teams stud freshman and sister is from Hilo. Athletes go to schools to play for coaches. And don’t tell me that’s not the case at all the power schools. You being blind if you think it’s only happening at one school. Wake up. Seriously. We can go on and on about athletes at schools.


  3. ILoveHawaii May 16, 2022 12:28 pm

    That first video, whoah. Is that what the youngins are calling CringeWorthy?

    And why is that Players Dad in the dugout? He knows nothing about Softball.
    I do agree that good players go to schools to play for coaches, but how does that apply in this case?
    It doesnt.
    You recruit the best players and the rest of the good ones follow even if they have to pay just to be on the winning team.

    Kudos to them tho. If you aint recruiting, you aint trying.
    These other schools need to get with it or get left behind. Some of those that have bigger CHIPs to offer need to get off that high horse and start giving them out or go and get an umbrella for shade as you watch the State Tournament from the bleachers.


  4. Opinion May 16, 2022 6:55 pm

    ILoveHawaii
    Other schools are doing the same thing. Maryknoll just happened to be the best team in the state last week. Not gonna get into specifics. We all know any team that is playing for a D1 title in any team sport has kids that are there to win a title. There’s little to no players that was at the same school since kindergarten. Majority come in during middle school and 9th grade Happens in football, baseball and basketball also. When Punahou, St. Louis and Iolani Win state titles it’s expected. The second a small school takes home a crown, out comes the recruiting accusations LOL. Usually it’s coming from people with affiliation to schools that’ do the exact same thing.


  5. ILoveHawaii May 17, 2022 8:39 am

    Opinion-

    Is it your assertion that Maryknoll does not recruit?

    As far as recruiting, not debating that.
    Maryknoll has done it the best the past two-three years and it PAID off.

    What I would like to know is whats up with softball on top of the hill. Another year unable to close it out. So much talent up there.


  6. Opinion May 17, 2022 12:01 pm

    ILoveHawaii
    I’m not disputing recruiting at all. What I am saying is that it happens everywhere. Coach/Fan to bring the t up soon as Maryknoll wins the title is a joke. There was multiple teams in The Who brought kids into the program to compete. My point is don’t call the kettle black if it’s happening in everybody’s programs


  7. Coach/fan May 17, 2022 1:03 pm

    Have you seen the players on Iolani’s roster? I’m pretty certain all those tiny Japanese players weren’t recruited to play softball. And I’m pretty certain all their helmets and shoes weren’t paid for by the coach.
    To win it all is great. Winning it with class is even better. LOTS of coaches I’ve spoken to cannot stand Maryknoll. The eye black at night, the towels hanging out of their back pockets, the antics after getting a hit, and the “selfies” after hitting a home run are uncalled for. I guess when you’re recruited and dominating everyone, you feel entitled to act out.
    Oh well . . .


  8. Opinion May 17, 2022 1:41 pm

    Coach/Fan
    Go do a little research on the freshman designated hitter. Please. Then come back an comment about those small Japanese girls. You’re very selective at what you choose to see. They went 8-5 in league play, including losing 3-4 to Iolani. Nobody was dominating in the ILH. You watch 4 games in the state tournament and this is the conclusion you come up with? SMH.


  9. Hawaii May 17, 2022 8:42 pm

    I find it ridiculously hard to believe that these people are really coming at these girls for wearing eye black, towels for SWEAT, and doing celebratory acts after hitting a BOMB / HOME RUN, like come on now.

    This is what makes the game more interesting, but hey, it’s clear that watching softball isn’t for some of these people. Also funny of these people to assume that these girls were recruited, clearly none of them did their research.

    Also when a smaller ILH school takes the title, this is when people accuse of recruiting? You have no right to put these girls down by saying “LOTS of coaches i’ve spoken to” blah blah blah.

    And for the record, no team was dominating. I’m not exactly sure where you’ve been looking but clearly you’ve been looking some place else. The fact that you think that these girls are entitled is freakin’ ridiculous too. You’re commenting negatively and even worse, ANONYMOUSLY about these girls as if you know them personally.

    Each and every one of those girls who play for Maryknoll are amazing people. Every team did amazing during the season. They’re just a group of teenage girls, who all share the same interests for loving the game of softball. They all worked their tails off for this title. Some of these comments are not it. Shaking my head is right.


  10. 🔑 May 17, 2022 9:51 pm

    Stap being mad you guys lost. See ya in a Kia 🏆🐐


  11. booger May 17, 2022 11:46 pm

    first of all, eye black is for glare, it doesn’t matter if its day or night, google it….secondly, towels in a back pocket has a purpose, one that might not even be your business…..thirdly and most importantly, these are kids…not professionals, i think you are losing sight of is it’s a game to be played at this level by kids and its supposed to have some fun in it…..the antics and selfies are done to let them have fun. Times are different and the world it different and if we are arguing over such things as recruiting and all the stuff mentioned above, you need to watch the news more and less softball games. Just be happy and move on, if you have to come on here and gripe, you need to find a hobby. there are far more bigger issues than this to spend time on. aloha


  12. Player May 18, 2022 6:36 pm

    As a player I find it absolutely embarrassing that these people feel the need to come on social media and bash these teenage girls on making the game more fun (as it should be). Why does eyeblack, towels (to wipe sweat), and celebrations concern you? And furthermore, why wait until the end of the state championship to bring it up? These girls have been doing it since the beginning of the season and only now it bothers you since they won a state title. Let the girls live and stop hating on the smallest things.


  13. Grown Man May 18, 2022 7:14 pm

    Looking at all these negative comments for this article is such a sad sight to see. Instead of congratulating the girls and school on their first softball state championship, there’s so much hatred for no reason. These are high school girls who fulfilled their dreams and goals this season. Learn to be proud of other peoples or teams successes rather than hate on them because your team wasn’t there.

    For all the comments who were positive and praised the girls, good for you for setting a good example. Maryknoll won their first softball state championship so just be happy for them. They deserved it as they were the best team in the tournament as they beat the ILH #1, OIA #1, Maui #1 and OIA #4 teams. I’d say that’s pretty impressive and well earned.

    ILoveHawaii: is that how you see the first video, as cringeworthy because you’re hating on a coach hugging the trophy for first ever softball state championship for Maryknoll? Maybe you should reevaluate your ego and instead be joyful that the girls have passionate coaches. Also, if you’re going to say a players dad knows nothing about softball, wouldn’t that be a detriment to the team if he’s in the dugout? I’m sure that all the coaches in the dugout (for all teams) have a reason to be there and that all have some sort of softball/baseball experience (playing or coaching). Good players go to schools to play for coaches and this applies to the Maryknoll team if you haven’t realized that yet.

    Coach/fan: what’s the point in “congratulating” a team then follow that with a snide comment about recruiting and how it’s a shame they have to win like that? Either be sincere or don’t say anything at all because you’re contradicting yourself. Your comments about recruiting can be aimed at any school, ILH or OIA and you’ll realize that players go where they WANT to go whether it be for the coach or players they want to play with. Maryknoll finished second in the ILH and had to play a tiebreaker to earn that spot so don’t you think if they were recruiting they would be running through the ILH? You complaining about eye black at night, towels in their back pocket and celebrations sounds like someone who hates the game of softball. Do you realize that some of the best D1 softball players also wear eye black, have towels in their pockets and do celebrations? That’s just how the game has evolved and if you don’t like it, you shouldn’t watch softball. It brings fun and entertainment to sports. If a pitcher can celebrate after every good pitch, why can’t the batter do something in their 3-4 at bats? The biggest shame on you is saying that all the girls helmets and shoes were paid for by their coach. Do you realize there’s something called fundraising and it’s been around for how many years? I’m sure you’ve heard of that and know what that is. If the girls want to look like a team by getting the same shoes and helmets, then that’s their decision. Don’t disgrace and belittle the team and girls because you have a negative attitude towards Maryknoll’s first softball state championship. If you have kids, I hope you don’t teach them your values because that’ll be a shame.

    Congratulations Maryknoll softball on your first ever state championship! You earned it and it was well deserved.


  14. Opinion May 19, 2022 6:03 am

    Coach/Fan
    Take a look at Waiakea’s boys baseball state title picture on the previous article. Eye black and sunglasses on their hats for a night game! Wonder what you and your coach friends have to say about that?


  15. Falcon Future May 19, 2022 2:06 pm

    Yup, the so-called recruiting is happening with every good team, including Iolani. The bottom line is Maryknoll recruited very well, but they also won it where it counts and that is on the field. Iolani had their chances in the championship game so they cannot cry about it now. The last out of the game was an epic showdown for Player of the Year!


  16. Falcon Future May 19, 2022 2:15 pm

    By the way and speaking of recruiting, some OIA schools will have an unexpected looking roster next year. Maryknoll, too. IYKYK.


  17. Janie Gueso May 23, 2022 1:17 pm

    First of all, congratulations to these young ladies who worked hard all season long to accomplish this goal that they set for themselves! I am not sure, but I think Maryknoll got some girls when Saint Francis school closed and some families just chose to go to another private Catholic school. For my family, we chose to move to Maryknoll first and foremost for academic reasons. We were displeased with the content and structure of my daughter’s online learning courses that she had since March of her freshman year and her entire sophomore year. In the middle of her sophomore year we started looking into the private school option. Being baptized Catholic I did have a preference for a Catholic school. We looked into multiple schools and we were first interested in Maryknoll based on the academic programs and clubs that my daughter was interested in. My daughter was a softball student athlete at the public school she attended, and although we knew that she would be ineligible to play softball because of the transfer rule, we still did our due-diligence to look into the softball coaching staff in case she decided to play her senior year. We were able to confirm with trusted mutual contacts that my daughter would be in a safe, positive environment should she decide to continue playing softball – if we did indeed choose Maryknoll. After weighing out other factors including cost of tuition and travel time, we chose Maryknoll. My daughter is doing good so far this year with a 3.9 GPA and my heart was overjoyed when she did so well in her Religion class, her favorite part was learning about all our Catholic sacraments. As for sports, my daughter was encouraged by a new friend she met at Maryknoll to tryout for Cross Country. After diligently researching the XC coaching staff, we did allow her to tryout for the Cross Country team. We were delighted when she did well in this new sport, even making it to the state tournament for XC on the Big Island and she really enjoyed it! The entire Maryknoll community has been very receptive of my daughter and she loves her new school. I hope my daughter decides to do Cross Country again next year and I hope she decides to play softball next year too!! Again, CONGRATULATIONS TO THE LADY SPARTANS, all your hard work and dedication as student athletes allowed you ladies to reach your goal. Period. Bottom line.


  18. ILoveHawaii May 24, 2022 10:05 am

    Grown Man-

    Yes. I do see that as cringeworthy. Just as you see it as being passionate.
    I guess Jon isnt as passionate as Marvin then since he wasnt writhing on the ground with the trophy too.

    Also, that dad dont belong in the dugout. Go ask somebody.

    Maryknoll did not have the best coaches by far but out-recruited them all.
    It is what it is and they did what they needed to bring home the championship.
    Feel like we having this conversation with St. Lulu parents who absolutely refuse to admit that kids are recruited.
    Its part of the game. We all know that. They put the best team together this year and won the KOA.

    Great vision coaches and great playing by the girls. Good luck for next season.


  19. Opinion May 25, 2022 1:43 pm

    ILoveHawaii
    You really need to include way more schools then just St. Louis and Maryknoll in your comment regarding recruiting. It’s everywhere. Has been and will continue to be, including other ILH schools and the OIA. Parents are gonna send their kids to schools they believe will provide their kids with the best environment to be successful. We can go back 20-30 years. It’s always been that way. People are unhappy that Maryknoll won their first title. Small private schools have dominated in the past. Bobby Au had powerhouse teams at Lab school. You think those kids just happen to be at that school for academics? Academy of the Pacific made a run also little over 10 years ago. We as a state are use to the blue bloods winning. Regardless of how they get players or where those players came from.


  20. Maryknoll Dad May 31, 2022 10:18 am

    ILoveHawaii

    Why don’t you tell that Dad he don’t belong in the dugout yourself??? I have his number…
    Lmk…


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