The Lady Eagles triumphed over the Seabury Hall Spartans for a 43–39 win on Saturday, Feb. 9 at the HHSAA Division II Girls Basketball State Championships. This is only the second time that the Lady Eagles have won the title, with the first win coming in 2016. Veterans Caitlin Ching (‘19), Alexis Dang (‘20), Kyley Nakagawa (‘19), and Sasha Phillip (‘20) anchored the HBA team with their experience. Freshman Hayley Taka (‘22) rounded out the starting five and Kalena Montgomery (‘19) proved to be a valuable sixth woman.
Going into the game, head coach Robin Yamaguchi’s game plan was simple: “Control what we can control, play hard, and play together.” Phillip’s plan was even simpler: “The only game plan I had was to beat Seabury by playing aggressive [sic] and being smart in what I did.”
Despite it being a championship game, the players say they didn’t experience any additional nerves. “Surprisingly, the championship game wasn’t the most nerve-racking for me,” Dang said. “[The two prior games] made me more nervous because we were done if we lost a game. So since we had made it to the championship, all we had to do was play like how we had the whole season, and we would be fine.” Senior Nakagawa relied on her experience to keep calm. “I wasn’t that nervous because I had the chance to experience what a championship game felt like during my freshman year. This was my last game and it was for the trophy, so I was really motivated to win,” she said.
From tip-off the Lady Eagles set a furious pace, racking up a 6–0 lead early in the first quarter. Yamaguchi said that pace is a trademark of the team: “We’ve played with [high] pace all season…it’s the identity that we have as a team.” The speed and pace of the Lady Eagles would prove to be the deciding factor of the night.
Despite the early setback, the Spartans would go on a run themselves, gaining a two-point lead to finish out the quarter 14 points to the Lady Eagles’ 12. Junior guard Julianne Lau recalls Yamaguchi’s instructions at that point: “Slow the ball down, play our game but shut theirs down.”
The second quarter saw no change of pace, with the Lady Eagles coming out quickly with a three-pointer from Dang. The Spartans would continue to pressure the Lady Eagles, preventing the latter from scoring in the paint and limiting their smaller opponents to only a one-point lead at the half. Despite the high pace, the second quarter saw a somewhat significant drop in offense, with both teams’ defenders shutting down the other’s scorers.
After the half, both teams seemed invigorated, increasing offensive output and compensating for the last quarter. The Lady Eagles would ride out the third quarter with a small two-point lead.
In the fourth quarter, the Lady Eagles managed a five-point run to put themselves seven points ahead of the Spartans. But, the Spartans matched their pace, eventually cutting down the lead to just two. Then Nakagawa was sent to the line and sunk one of her free throws to put the Eagles up 42–39. The Spartans looked to inbound the ball and hopefully score a three to send the game into overtime. But in a display of incredible court vision, Dang snatched the ball from the Spartans, essentially securing both the win and “Play of the Game” honors.
Dang would score another free throw, putting the Lady Eagles up by four. As the buzzer sounded, the HBA bench stormed the court to join their team as the new Division II champion. This moment remains clear in junior guard Cydni Yoshida’s memory. “I was so happy that we had won and that all of our hard work during the off-season had paid off. Our team learned from our past failures from years before, and we worked really hard to develop our game and our identity as a team,” she said. Senior guard Nicole Arakaki distinctly remembers Dang’s crucial play. “When I saw [Alexis] get the steal,” she said, “I knew it was over, that we were champs.”
Senior Adam Kikuta, HBA boys varsity basketball player, watched proudly from the stands as the Lady Eagles celebrated their win on the court. “Seabury was a legitimate team but our girls were just too fast and too experienced,” he said. Teammate Brandon Okazaki, also a senior, shared Kikuta’s sentiments, saying, “The game was competitive and the Spartans used their size well, but experience trumped talent.”
On top of a successful championship win, the Lady Eagles racked up an impressive record this year, with 12 wins and only a single loss in league games and 25 wins with only six losses overall. Senior forward Alexia Sanchez reflected on the team’s season: “I think win or no win, we’d be proud of ourselves because of how far we’ve come as a team since Day One. However, the championship win is definitely a sweet add-on to our successful season.” Dang agreed, adding, “We had such an amazing season and the championship win just highlighted how hard we worked this year.”
After the game, along with Nakagawa’s Division II All-Tournament Team award, Dang was named “Most Outstanding Player” of the tournament. Taka also received recognition for being the “Impact Player of the Game.” The Lady Eagles also filled up the 2019 ILH Division II All-Stars list, with Dang’s “Most Valuable Player” award, Nakagawa’s first team nomination, Phillip’s second team nomination, and Ching’s and Taka’s honorable mentions.