The buzzer rang, and only a few muffled claps could be heard in HBA’s Dan Liu Gymnasium as the Lady Eagles lost Spike Nite against Le Jardin’s Bulldogs by a mere two points. The final score was 25-21, 25-20, 25-23. This was the third meeting for the two teams this season with the previous games ending in losses for the Lady Eagles. The Bulldogs came into the game undefeated and on the top of the league, while HBA was in second place with a 6-3 record.
Leading up to the game on September 30, the Lady Eagles spared no effort in their preparations. Senior defensive specialist Kacie Agena shared that the team did extra workouts after practice. In order to mentally prepare for the game, sophomore middle Caroline Fisher went into practices like they were game day. Before heading into Spike Nite, Fisher felt that the team had a good chance of winning. “[The] game is a way for us to really show how good we are…[because] everyone’s there,” she said. Head coach Myles Shioji, who has overseen the varsity girls team since 2006, said that they “scouted on what Le Jardin runs in terms of offense and defense and game planned for that.”
With all the preparation and the advantage of playing to a home crowd, the loss at Spike Nite stung more than others. In the first two sets, the Lady Eagles battled but lost by a handful of points. The players had a break to talk with the coaches and plan a comeback strategy for the third set. Senior defense specialist Rachel Tsuchiya said, “[The strategy was] to do everything in our power to push the game to a five set game. The girls were getting tired from the first two hard fought sets but we needed to push ourselves to fight for every point in the third set. Our coaches reminded us that we needed to play our game and to believe in ourselves.” Shioji explained his approach at the time, saying, “Any shifts in strategy was a result of what Le Jardin either did on offense or defense.” Recalling the team huddle after the first two sets, sophomore outside hitter Marisa Nakata said, “I felt like [losing the first two sets] pushed us a little bit more, so we had to overcome that. It also pushed us to have more confidence, and just to perform like how we usually do.”
Refocused by their team huddle, the Lady Eagles gave the last set everything they had. There were long rallies riddled with saves and spikes. However, the Bulldogs prevailed and denied the Lady Eagles a five-set game.
While they lost on the scoreboard that night, the Lady Eagles did not lose their spirit. Immediately after the game, Nakata remained positive. “Obviously it wasn’t the outcome that we wanted,” she said, “but we really tried our best tonight.” Tsuchiya was equally affirming of her team’s performance. She said, “Le Jardin is a very skilled and disciplined team so we knew we had to play our hardest to play a great game. This team has worked and prepared very hard this season to play a game like Spike Nite and I believe everyone played their best…Although I’m bummed we couldn’t bring home the win on Spike Nite in front of the school and everyone else who supports, I felt proud of the fighting efforts everyone put out in that game. I was super happy with the amount of support we received that night and I’m just really grateful for everyone that came out.”
Playing for a home crowd often puts a lot of pressure on players. However, Nakata felt that the overall effect was helpful. “The crowd [and the bench] definitely helped give us more energy. [We also trusted] each other on the court,” she said. Tsuchiya’s method of overcoming pressure lies in having the right mindset. “I think feeling the pressure in tough game situations is more of a mental game than a skill game. Believing that I can do my job for my team and trusting in my teammates to do their job as well is a huge mental step that helps me cope with pressure. Collectively, our team has dealt with being placed under a lot of pressure from external factors but our coaches always remind us to play for our teammates and not for anyone else,” she explained.
Shioji too was proud of his team’s performance on Spike Nite. “The girls did really well. Le Jardin is a really difficult team to prepare for and the girls did a great job of executing the game plan and adjusting as the match went along,” he said.
Senior Skylar Takeuchi was one of many HBA students who cheered on the Lady Eagles from the stands. “Every time we would score a point, all of us would go crazy,” he recalled. Regarding the loss, he said, “[We expected] a very tough battle and the girls fought really hard that night…[It was] a little disappointing, but I think everyone had a fun time. That’s the main takeaway from Spike Nite.”
Looking ahead to the end of the season, Nakata said, “I think just whatever comes, we’re gonna practice hard and see what happens in the next game. [Winning the state championship is] definitely our goal; we always have that in the back of our heads. Just another goal to work towards. For us [becoming state champs] definitely starts in practice [and] really working on the small things.”
Tsuchiya too was hopeful. “My hopes for the rest of the season is to finish the rest of our season with wins and to win ILH D2 State Champs! Our team goal is to win states so hopefully we can get the job done and get our seed into the state tournament.”
In the following week after Spike Nite, the Lady Eagles achieved their goal to earn a spot in the ILH Division 2 State Tournament by beating Damien and Maryknoll. Last night, they overcame Damien again in an intense five-set semi-final game and will have another chance to break Le Jardin’s undefeated record in tonight’s state championship title match. This game is a rematch not only of Spike Nite, but also of the last state championship final played by the Lady Eagles in 2017, where the Bulldogs denied them the state title.