Benny Agbayani found his calling early and continues to have a Midas touch.
The ‘Iolani softball coach guided the Raiders to their first state title in 19 seasons this spring. His oldest daughter, Aleia, had a monster season with a .636 batting average, 16 home runs and 56 RBIs while pitching and playing center field. Four Raiders landed on the All-State first team, including player of the year honors for Aleia. The depth and experience will carry over next season as ‘Iolani builds on what could be the makings of a new dynasty.
Younger daughter Ailana was selected to the All-State first team, and slugger/pitcher Allie Capello is also a freshman.
Coach Agbayani chatted with Hawaii Prep World.
HPW: We’ve talked story a bit about this before, and it’s fascinating. The times have changed and softball technology hasn’t missed the boat. I hear a lot about training and traveling, but the advance in softball bats is major.
Agbayani: Last year and this year, you look at a lot of teams, they all use the same bat, the Ghost. The Easton Ghost.
It makes the game a little more interesting because when you’re watching softball, you’re just waiting for that one girl to hit that home run and the game could be changed in a hurry. When the ball hits that bat, the ball’s just jumping off.
HPW: The increase in homers at the state softball tournament was mind-blowing. There were 12 homers in elimination games at the 2018 state tourney. This year, it was 36. I don’t think it’s a problem, as a fan, because when aluminum bats were banned, hitting really bottomed out in softball and baseball. So it balances out over time, right?
Agbayani: I love aluminum because you didn’t have to buy a bat every year. I used aluminum every year until I got to the pros. I had the same bat from when I was 13 to when I finished high school. That’s how long. Nowadays, the composite bats, you’re almost buying a new bat every year. These companies, they’re scientifically making these bats a little more stronger, a little more exciting for the games.
HPW: Which bats are truly the best?
Agbayani: The Easton, the DeMarini. The kids would know. For me, it’s whatever feels comfortable in the kid’s hand. If it feels good in your hands, it’s going to be a good bat. You want to go to the plate feeling good.
HPW: Congratulations on being voted Coach of the Year. What does it feel like now that you’ve been coaching for a lot of years now?
Agbayani: I enjoy the players and I enjoy coaching. It’s a great experience. Sharing all my knowledge, what I’ve learned. It helps when you have a wife (Niela) who is very involved with you while you’re coaching. It makes the family a little bit stronger. She’s who I look at all the time. She’s the one taking our daughters up to the mainland, so she hears the other coaches. We try to collaborate and find out new things of what everyone’s doing up there.
HPW: The amount of training that goes into the offseason for softball players has really changed over the past 10, 20 years, too.
Agbayani: These girls are getting stronger, they’re hitting the weight room. They kind of understand there are college scholarships out there, so they’re going to do their best to get where they need to. A lot of these coaches are looking for student-athletes.