Hawaii Baptist Academy has never been known for being a basketball school.

In the high school varsity sports arena, there’s often a lot more talk about HBA’s volleyball and bowling programs when it comes to postseason success. The girls varsity basketball team, however, is hoping to change this perception, in spite of the challenges they’ve faced this season.

Coming off their first Division II State Title in school history last season, the Lady Eagles were unsuccessful this year in recapturing their crown in the state championships. The team fought its way to an overall record of 19-5 but lost a close game in the opening round of the playoffs to Moanalua 50-47.

Head coach Keith Sugiura said, “In the end, it may have felt to some that we fell short of certain goals. But I was proud of this team for the work they put in, their ability to bounce back from setbacks and how they supported [eachother] and grew closer throughout the season.”

The players on the team echoed Sugiura’s take on the team’s mettle throughout the season. “Our team was [really close] and we really had each other’s backs,” said sophomore forward Haley Benn. Junior guard Ally Wada, a veteran on the team, was quick to give credit to her team after she was named the OC16 Impact Player of the Game during their homecoming game against University Lab’s Junior Bows. “I think it’s a reflection of how hard our team works. My teammates and coaches are the ones that are pushing me every day in practice to make me better,” she said. For Wada, the Lady Eagles’ dominant 57-18 win over the Junior Bows was a testament to the team’s ability to bounce back from their losses (to Mid-Pacific and Saint Francis) before the homecoming game.

Sugiura pointed out the importance of teams to creating their own identity each season. “Each season we try to focus on the opportunities and challenges of the new season,” he explained. “It’s our hope that we’ve been able to establish a culture and program identity inherited over time but we try to avoid making direct comparisons to previous teams, especially as it relates to past accomplishments. Each year, we start anew and the current team writes their own story.” Sugiura credits the veterans on the team for taking the lead on building team chemistry. “It’s a player-directed process,” he said, “and credit is due to those whom we asked to provide leadership, especially our juniors and seniors.”

In the end, it may have felt to some that we fell short of certain goals. But I was proud of this team for the work they put in, their ability to bounce back from setbacks and how they supported and grew closer throughout the season.

This year, there were just three seniors and three juniors on the team of 17, and Wada acknowledged that team chemistry and identity took some time to build. “I think that this season was different from the previous ones because more than half of our team was underclassmen, and so they were kind of new to the system and the pace of the game,” she said. “Because there were so many new people, it took awhile for everyone to get used to playing with each other.”

One of the key factors in helping the team come together was their winter break trip to California to participate in the Garden Grove Classic tournament. Senior guard Kiara Chun said, “The most memorable part [of the season] was definitely the California trip. It was a good experience to play bigger girls up in the mainland and was a great bonding experience.” Recalling a close game against Torrance, where the Lady Eagles scraped through with a 56-52 win, Chun said, “We went into overtime but it was such a good game because we were able to keep our composure and execute despite the situation we were in.”

For Chun, ending her last season on the team without another championship title was tough but she remains positive. “For me it was bittersweet. I was excited to finally be sports-free and not have to worry about the running and workouts and summer league but I was also sad because some of my best memories of high school came with being part of such an amazing team. Now that the season was done, it was kinda like ‘that’s it.’”

Wada, on the other hand, is undaunted and looks forward to having another chance to reclaim the title in her senior year. “I think that it was a good learning experience for our younger players,” she said. “Now that they have experience in pressured situations, they’ll know what it takes to win important games.” Wada was named to the ILH Division II All-Star First Team, while junior guard Katie Nakagawa, the Lady Eagles’ top scorer this season, earned a spot on the Second Team. Senior forward CJ Ramos, sophomore guard Kyley Nakagawa and freshman guard Alexis Dang all received Honorable Mentions.

Looking ahead, Sugiura has the big picture in mind. “In a few weeks, our 2017-18 season will start with spring workouts and I’m sure our players will set their sights on a league and state championship,” he said. “That’s fine, and maybe what it should be. What’s important and more telling is their willingness to commit to the shared sacrifices necessary to realize those goals. With each new season, I’m very hopeful.”