On January 13, in the first full-scale homecoming event in three years, HBA’s varsity girls and boys basketball teams faced off their competitors in a confident display of skill and determination, winning both homecoming games in front of a spirited home crowd.
The Lady Eagles kicked off the evening with their game against the Mid-Pac Owls, winning 35-26. The boys team followed suit against the Le Jardin Bulldogs, closing out the night with a 68-49 victory.
Pre-Game Excitement and Jitters
Many of the student athletes, especially the seniors, were ecstatic going into the homecoming event. Four-year varsity senior player Careah Baitlon and her fellow senior teammates had not played before a Homecoming crowd since their freshman year due to the Covid-19 pandemic. “I think we are all more grateful for our season and everything we can do [this year] because of [Covid-19],” Baitlon noted. Senior Joey Lin also joined the varsity team as a freshman and added that “after a whole season of having to wear masks while playing, [she is] excited to see the bleachers filled with support from [the team’s] families and friends.” Baitlon recalled having to wear proximity tracking disks during games, which were required at school for all HBA students. No longer having to wear the disks for her is “a weight lifted off [the players’] shoulders.”
While the seniors expressed enthusiasm and readiness for Homecoming night, Lin explained that her underclassmen teammates were unaccustomed to playing in front of huge crowds due to Covid-19 restrictions in prior seasons. Sophomore Matthew Shigetani, a second-year varsity boys player, agreed with Lin’s statement. “I already have the jitters,” he said before the game. Shigetani has been at HBA since the sixth grade and attended past Homecomings as a spectator. But this year, he had the opportunity to play on the court as a starter. Despite his pre-game nerves, Shigetani was confident that once his team gets into the locker room, they would be able to “calm each other down” and “play up to the occasion.”
Girls Game: Lady Eagles Vs. Mid-Pac Owls
The girls tip off began at 5:00 pm with close to 800 people in attendance. The Lady Eagles started off strong with a 9-0 lead against the Owls. Freshman Lauren Okuda made two of the three opening three-point shots, albeit feeling extremely anxious prior to the game. “It was very nerve-racking at first,” she recalled, “because I was afraid of the large crowd and messing up in front of my peers.” Okuda was called up from junior varsity about a month prior to the Homecoming match. The freshman acknowledged feeling the pressure of stepping up to the varsity level but feels that the opportunity has boosted her self-confidence. “[Varsity] practices are much more challenging…but I like the transition because I feel like it pushes me to be better,” she said.
The Lady Eagles led the entire game despite an Owls’ comeback attempt in the third quarter with a 0-4 run. Junior Kaitlyn Maruya shut down a Mid-Pac fast break by making a chase down block that fired up the fans.
In the fourth quarter, the Lady Eagles sealed the deal with three back-to-back, fast-break plays that put the team up 14 points. At the final buzzer, they secured their homecoming victory with a score of 35-26. Okuda finished with 7 points, the second-highest scorer for the Lady Eagles.
Boys Game: Eagles Vs. Le Jardin Bulldogs
Following the girls varsity win, the boys team took on the Bulldogs and right away, the Eagles found their groove. In the first quarter, HBA was up 20-10. Le Jardin closed the lead to within three points in the following quarter; however, the Eagles wrestled back control by forcing turnovers and finishing transition plays. With 1:15 left in the first half, junior Eli Shibuya made an and-one that put the Eagles up 34-17. Shigetani then ended the half with a buzzer-beater three in the corner, one of four of his three-point makes.
Heading into half-time at 38-19, the Eagles and the home crowd briefly shifted their attention to a moment many had been waiting for all week—the announcement of the 2023 Spirit Week results. For the senior basketball players, nothing would have been sweeter than a triple win— homecoming victories for the boys and girls, plus a Spirit Week trophy for the senior class. From last to first, the final Spirit Week standings were announced, and the seniors stormed the court to celebrate as their class was named the 2023 Spirit Week winner.
The second half resumed with both teams at full momentum, and Le Jardin closed the Eagles’ lead to 11 points. However, a big three by sophomore Colton Wong put the Eagles back in their groove and from then on the Bulldogs were trailed without much threat. The final score was 68-49. Shigetani and Shibuya dominated the board with a combined 35 points.
“Everyone contributed,” commented Shigetani on the win. “[Homecoming] was just a crazy environment. I couldn’t hear anything.” Senior Jordon Qin also remembered the thrill and intensity of the match, saying “it was [so much] fun. I liked the energy, the enthusiasm.” Qin experienced the 2020 Homecoming as a freshman on varsity but added that this one felt different. “This was my last homecoming game, and we won,” he said.
Boys varsity head coach Kellen Kaneshiro described the homecoming crowd as “truly an awesome sight to see.” Kaneshiro is an HBA alumni and played in homecoming games when he was in high school. “[Homecoming] was always the game I looked forward to the most because it culminated the entire week of school spirit and competition, and you knew the entire student body was going to be there,” Kaneshiro said. “I truly believe that we have the best Homecoming game to play in on the island.”
Robin Yamaguchi, head coach for the girls varsity, commended the HBA fans for their “loud and supportive” energy as he felt that the crowd helped both teams get off to their fast starts. “We have not had this excitement in the school for a long time. Having the gym full of fans, especially the elementary students in [the] back of the players’ bench made it a special game,” he said.
ILH Championship Hopes
With the homecoming victory behind them, the girls team went on to defeat Punahou II, Sacred Hearts Academy, and Hanalani, all of which took place on the opposing teams’ Senior Nights. The Lady Eagles avenged their earlier losses to the Sacred Heart Lancers with a 48-43 victory and to the Hanalani Royals with a 40-35 win. Today, the Lady Eagles will play against the Royals again for the ILH Division 2 Championship title and the first seed in the HHSAA D2 State Tournament. At the moment, both teams are tied with the same record and have secured their spots at States, which will be held in Hilo, Hawaii in early February.
The boys team hosted their Senior Day game the day after Homecoming. They defeated Damien 45-29. The boys have two more games left in their regular season to defend their title as ILH Division 2 Champions.