For months, the young Monarchs of Damien have lived the grind and grit life.
The Damien girls basketball team worked out through the early stages of this strange and unfamiliar pandemic life once the first lockdown ended. Summer arrived and they kept working like a machine with workouts that included ballhandling, drives, jumpers, box jumps, weight training.
The potential for success, even in a rugged ILH universe, was real. It still is, even after the league cancelled five winter sports on Monday, including girls basketball, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I was really surprised. Obviously, a little bit disappointed, but from a safety standpoint, I understand,” first-year Monarchs head coach Mark Arquero said. “Not much we can do. Got to put the safety of the students and the community first. I’m hearing there’s going to be things to keep the girls active. Intramurals and some hopeful options like scrimmages. It’s disheartening a little bit, and I feel for the players, especially the seniors.”
Arquero wonders when Hawaii will be able to adopt the strategies used by most of the country to allow high school sports to be played.
“It was tough to hear. We’re one of the few states that don’t have sanctioned sports. A handful are still closed to club sports,” he said. “Let the kids play.”
The Monarchs’ workouts are captivating, at least on video that is posted via social media. They go at it circuit style, never a wasted second as they do everything from box jumps to change-of-direction dribbling drills with the finish at the bucket in a non-stop routine as a group — while socially distanced.
“I’ve been trying to mix it up. We have circuit days, almost like a CrossFit workout. They enjoy the beach workouts, then they can relax and enjoy company afterward,” Arquero said. “We have 2-on-2 and 3-on-3 stuff, but I can tell they want 5-on-5. They want to play other people. Technically, we’re not even allowed to play 5-on-5 and we adhere to that.”
All of it happens off campus, since the gym has not been available.
“I let them know we still have the approval to work out. That might salvage something. Keep them active and give them that critical outlet. To help them build for the future,” Arquero said. “We’ve been rotating between Zoom sessions and public parks. Salt Lake, Crestview, Manana, Lanakila. There’s a handful of them.”
For some of the Monarchs, the workouts are welcome diversion from their other sports.
“With our team, there’s not that many year-round players, so they’re excited to work out. But the club players, they’re used to playing games year-round, so it’s a question of, ‘Why are we doing this?’ Trying to find ways to make it meaningful, for the younger ones especially. We’ve got to keep them hungry,” Arquero said.
Though the official ILH basketball season has been dismantled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, programs had been working out for roughly a month. Enforcing protocols and honing individual skills became a part of life, and so far, none of the teams are planning to stop.
“I tend to be generally optimistic. I knew there was a chance there would be no season. I thought, in the ILH, as coaches we can control it better. Not have to deal with a large crowd of students compared to larger-population schools. The coaches, the training staff, we can take the precautions necessary with screening and testing, and have a season,” Arquero said.
When Hawaii played Hawaii Pacific in early December for men’s and women’s games, it seemed to be a perfect example for prep sports.
“That was a big turning point with the HPU-UH game. I thought that was a positive step that we could follow,” Arquero said.