With a late start to the in-person school year, many sports like volleyball have had their seasons delayed.
Tryouts for girls volleyball, which are usually done in the fall, took place in March this year, alongside the boys tryouts. The combined season of girls and boys volleyball started in the beginning of March and ended in mid-May.
As with all sports, volleyball players had to wear masks, maintain social distancing, and sanitize regularly during practices and matches. Although games have resumed, spectators aren’t allowed inside of the gyms. Instead, each game is live streamed by the host school, and parents and classmates are able to watch and cheer on their favorite players virtually. This was also the case for HBA’s girls and boys senior nights. Rather than bleachers packed full of people, family and friends were invited to drop off cardboard cutouts and posters to be featured in the background of the games. Senior defensive specialist Asja Deai, a member of the girls varsity team for all four years, said, “[Not having] any spectators or family members in the gym watching our games continues to be a change that definitely affects the dynamic on the court.”
On the scoreboard, the girls varsity team have been unfazed by this challenge as they recently finished their season as ILH Division 2 runner-up with a 11-4 record. The boys varsity volleyball team also performed well on the court as their season came to an end with a 6-6 record and T3 finish, both program highs for Division 1.
Another challenge with this year’s volleyball season is that many of the players haven’t been able to practice off-season since the start of the pandemic. Usually, volleyball is a year round sport with club season and then school season. The athletes had to quickly get back into the swing of competitive volleyball while adapting to new precautions and restrictions. HBA girls varsity volleyball head coach Myles Shioji said that the most difficult thing about this season was balancing safety and compliance to COVID regulations while also playing at a high level of volleyball. “I hope [one thing] the student-athletes take away [from this season] is appreciation for the amount of work and planning it took to make this league season possible,” he said.
Freshman outside hitter and middle blocker Caitlin Wong, a new member to the girls varsity team, said, “At first I was really nervous about playing with the upperclassman, but everyone took me under their wing and made me feel welcome. The veteran players taught me to not get down on myself if I had a bad play. They always cheered me on and their belief in me made me believe that we could beat anyone.”
Senior outside hitter and middle blocker Amber Loo, another four-year veteran, said that she can relate to Wong’s experience. Loo explained, “I remember being both the newbie and longest team member. The people in my very first year made me feel included and instantly a part of the team. In the same way, I opened up to our new teammates every year afterwards, because a strong bond off the court can really translate onto the court. I love how a sport can bring people closer together, whether you have known each other for years or never met until you started playing.”
Although this is his first year on the boys varsity team, sophomore setter Skylar Takeuchi said that practices and games became more and more comfortable throughout the season as the veteran players built up his confidence to be a leader on the court. “Especially with this past team, my favorite thing about playing volleyball at HBA is the family-like sense of community,” he said. One of Takeuchi’s most memorable experiences is hanging out and eating with his teammates after a game.
Junior libero and defensive specialist Mark Fujimoto also values the friendships he’s made on the team. “This volleyball season was very different from last season considering how well our team bonded this year compared to last, as well as our ability to compete with the other teams. We are always together and are supporting each other no matter what is happening,” Fujimoto said.
This year, there are nine seniors on the boys team. HBA boys varsity volleyball head coach Teoni Obrey is proud of how his senior veterans have performed this year, both on and off the court. Obrey said, “Our seniors did an outstanding job of creating a positive team environment. They were inclusive, led by example and brought a ton of energy to our practices and matches.”
Senior middle blocker Jonathan Punohu-Freeman said, “My favorite thing about HBA Volleyball is the way that Coach Teoni pushes us. It really brings out the type of person you are and shows whether or not you’re built for it.” Punohu-Freeman appreciated how his coaches always believed in the team, and the constant support motivated them to work even harder. “Coach Teoni pushes us not only to be better volleyball players, but better men,” he said.
Senior Len Silva, a member of the boys varsity team for all four years, said that his favorite thing about volleyball is the life lessons that the team learns. “Volleyball teaches us to be better people as well as get better at our craft,” Silva explained. Although he believed that this year’s team wasn’t as strong as previous years, he said that the chemistry among the players was unmatched. “My most memorable moment was my senior night when I got a block, and I looked up and saw the entire bench going crazy,” said Silva.
With the end of this year’s season at hand, Obrey hopes that his players will continue to be good teammates and good people. Shioji added, “The team has grown the most in their mental approach to the sport and how the lessons they learn on the court can be applied to other parts of their life.”