Two days after Hawaii Baptist won a state championship — the Eagles’ third Division II crown in a row — it was back to work.
Another spectacular season, 21-2 including an upset at Kamehameha — the eventual D-I state champ — peaked with a tough four-set victory over Word of Life on Saturday.
But there was no break, no layoff, no rest for the happily weary.
“They’re busy with club volleyball,” coach Myles Shioji said.
That’s right, the grind of a full season, from early August to early November, is followed immediately by offseason work. The odd thing is, the Eagles love it all, and when something is about love, it’s just not work, is it?
Wind the tape back to any regular-season match, and it was the same scenario for HBA in pre-game. Long before warmups, the Eagles mingle and get geeked up, talking about anything and everything that may or may not have to do with volleyball. Never mind the Top 10, Top 5 rankings or college prospects for top players like Sarah Palmer, C’era Oliveira and junior setter Kayla Kawamura.
While other teams spent their pre-game time somberly listening to their coaches or simply scattered about inside or outside a gym, the Eagles did their social networking thing, old-school style. The results on the court once warmups began proved successful. Shioji saw it as just another personality trait of the team worth leaving alone.
Of course, winning does help. The Eagles had talent returning, but had some concerns at key positions.
“Coming back after a good season, we had to work harder,” Palmer said, citing the graduation of All-State libero Kelly Chang. “Everybody did their part. Taryn (Bohan) converted from outside hitter (to libero).”
That also meant that sophomore C.J. Asuncion would be part of the rotation in the middle after splitting time at opposite and the middle in 2008.
“In some programs, those moves might be drastic,” Shioji said, citing extremely high expectations regardless of position changes.
“It’s a lot of pressure to put on 15-to-18 year old girls. They took it to a whole new level,” he said. “The girls know they’re good volleyball players, but it takes more than that to win a championship. They like each other.”
With three state title trophies in their midst, Shioji and his staff have been constant. Just about the only thing that was obviously different this time was his wardrobe. Shioji left the suit, which he wore for the finals in ’07 and ’08, in his closet.
“Everybody asks about it. It’s retired,” he said.
Palmer, a University of Texas-bound senior, teamed with Oliveira to provide great offense and defense all season. Palmer (19 kills, 25 digs) and Oliveira (20 kills, seven digs, three aces) were lights-out brilliant in the final against WOLA. Both were named to the all-tournament team along with Kawamura; Palmer was named most outstanding player for a second year in a row.
Where do the Eagles go from here without their graduating seniors?
“We’re not the favorite next year,” Shioji said, almost relieved. “I don’t ever think we’re the favorite. Word of Life is young and talented. Kaiser is, too, but I’m not sure if they’re in D-II (next year). Molokai looked pretty good. University and La Pietra lose a lot of seniors, but St. Francis returns a lot of good girls.”
“We’ll be in the hunt. You just try to get the girls up for the next challenge,” he said. “Winning’s not the priority for us. It’s how we win or lose. It’s a lifestyle.”
Shioji’s blend of youthful energy and sage wisdom have worked well. The outgoing seniors have been in the program since their seventh-grade year on the intermediate team, setting the tone for the underclassmen. What makes Shioji happier, though, is the big picture viewed through his players’ eyes.
“Nothing compares to life. You hear about the 20th anniversary of Molokai’s (volleyball team) plane crash. One of our intermediate girls lost her mom. It puts everything in perspective,” Shioji said. “Family and life, nothing compares to it. We love volleyball, but it’s just a sport. The trophies get tarnished and medals get put away, but your memories with friends and the coaching staff, that’s the main thing for the girls.”
Not that they won’t cherish going out on top.
“For the seniors,” Oliveira said, “we really know how special it is to win a state championship.”