The big dance is exactly two weeks away, so here’s a look at how it is shaping up in a wide open Division II.
It is particularly intriguing — and saddening — for fans who enjoy watching both D-II and D-I state tournaments. It’ll be fun for Big Islanders since the D-II dance will be at iconic Afook-Chinen Hilo Civic Auditorium. The site is similar to McCabe Gymnasium, home of Saint Louis and Chaminade basketball, but Hilo Civic has “end zone” seating on one side.
Parity will be the theme in Hilo with so much balance across the state. Defending champion Hawaii Baptist finished third in the ILH behind league winner Mid-Pacific and Hanalani. All three have qualified for states already.
“It’s a great experience for student-athletes to travel off island,” Mid-Pacific coach Reid Sagawa said. “They surely enjoy the company of teammates 24/7. Hotels, van rides, eating. Although there are many distractions, we have to lock in and approach it as a business trip, and not a field trip. Hopefully, it’s a memorable experience for these young women. The Hilo Civic is a nostalgic place. Hilo is definitely a basketball town. It’s going to be a great week with great competition.”
The ILH’s fourth state berth is up for grabs during the playoff tournament this week. The semifinals are on Thursday and the final for the fourth spot is on Saturday. This format has been a staple in the ILH for ages. Regular-season success and consistency are rewarded. Then the battle for the final spot, which is very much akin to some of the ideas bouncing around for the NBA playoffs in 2021-22.
(Note: This format is not the same with the ILH D-I boys. In that format, it is more traditional, a championship-bracket style.)
“I really like the format as the top three teams get automatic state berths and the rest play in with the D-III champion for the fourth state berth,” Sagawa said. “It places value on the regular season and makes every regular-season game important with high stakes because we only play one round. It rewards success for regular season, yet the other teams still have chances to get in through the ILH tournament.”
For MPI, Hanalani and HBA, the prospect of a half-month without a game is a mixed bag.
“The two-and-a-half-week break is challenging,” Sagawa said. “It’s definitely a good time to heal and recover physically from the demands of the regular season. Mentally, it’s a good break, as well, to be able to slow down and refresh. Academically, it’s a good time for the girls to go for extra tutorial, get ahead in school work as the state tournament is time consuming. Strategically, we’ll have some time to tighten up schemes, work on situations.”
Of course, the long break has its minuses.
“It’s a challenge to find ways to stay sharp and maintain mental focus, as well. It’s still important to practice with a sense of urgency because you want to perform at states at a higher level than regular season,” said Sagawa, who is a health coordinator and teacher at ‘Iolani. “We have to try and find a practice rhythm, get into a flow and routine again.”
The OIA D-II playoffs are around the corner, tipping off today along with the D-I playoffs. In the KIF, Waimea, a team that reached the semifinals last year, is fighting off Kauai in a wow-level, season-long war.
In the MIL, Seabury Hall is the class of the league, at least in D-II. The Spartans are arguably the best team, period, but we’ll never know.
For BIIF teams, a chance to stay home and play in the state tourney is a rarity. Kamehameha-Hawaii is the D-II frontrunner at this point.
The potential field of Waimea (or Kauai) and Seabury Hall plus MPI, Hanalani and HBA is appetizing, while the likely D-I field has a significant gap between the top four teams — ‘Iolani, Konawaena, Waiakea and Maryknoll — from the rest of the field. Maryknoll hasn’t clinched a state berth yet. Neither has Konawaena, nor Waiakea. But between the two state tournaments, the one in Hilo could be more enticing when it comes to closer games.
It’s just a bummer that the tournaments are at the same time. Last year’s D-II big dance was a great opportunity, particularly on the final day, to see the great teamwork of HBA, the length and athleticism of Lishae Scanlan, the blur-effect of Waimea playmakers Kaye Serapio and Kierstin Gummerus, the power of Seabury Hall’s underclassmen.
Now those of us who will be at the D-I state tourney will miss all that. We won’t get to see MPI’s Madi Sagawa mystify foes with her magic. Enjoy the tourney, Hilo hoop fans. I am officially jealous.