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HHSAA officially cancels March state tourneys

Coaches unsurprised by announcement, await word on MIL

King Kekaulike High School’s Teani Arakawa (right) and Kamehameha Kapalama’s Kamryn Kaleiohi-Haia battle for the ball during The Queen’s Medical Center/HHSAA Division I Girls Soccer State Championship final Feb. 8 at the Waipio Peninsula Soccer Stadium. Na Alii fell to the Warriors 1-0. This year’s state tournament is among many canceled by the HHSAA due to the COVID-19 pandemic. PARISH KALEIWAHEA photo

On the heels of announcements from around the state that the winter high school sports season is on the brink of being officially wiped out by the COVID-19 pandemic, three Maui Interscholastic League championship coaches reacted with mixed emotions over the weekend.

Two of the state’s five leagues said within the last week that their winter sports would be curtailed, and the Hawaii High School Athletic Association announced the cancellation of all March state tournaments in a news release on Saturday.

“(The HHSAA) is forgoing its March 2021 state championships under their modified calendar, affecting air riflery, basketball, bowling, cheerleading, cross country, outrigger canoe paddling, soccer, swimming and diving and wrestling, which are all slated to begin (today),” the HHSAA news release said. “The decision was based on several factors, including, but not limited to, travel restrictions and that leagues were already conducting shortened seasons.”

“Our intent for cancelling the first set of state tournaments was to allow our member schools the opportunity to participate in a longer league season, rather than a truncated one with regional and state tournament play for only a limited number of schools,” HHSAA Executive Director Chris Chun said in the news release. “Although the state tournaments are cancelled, leagues are not restricted in conducting their seasons if it is deemed safe to do so. We will continue to work with the Department of Health and government officials for the possibility to hold state tournaments for the remaining sports in late May.”

The HHSAA decision came after the Interscholastic League of Honolulu sent a letter to its schools last Monday that said basketball, bowling, paddling, soccer and wrestling have been canceled in that all-private school league.

Maui High School’s Aaren Orquia (black cap) closes in on the final turn of the boys 100-yard butterfly final at the K. Mark Takai/HHSAA Swimming and Diving Championships at Kihei Aquatic Center on Feb. 15. He took fourth with a time of 51.12 seconds. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Three hours after the HHSAA’s announcement, the Oahu Interscholastic Association declared that all winter sports in the state’s largest league are off.

The remaining sports scheduled to play from March to May include baseball, football, golf, judo, softball tennis, track and field, water polo and volleyball, according to the HHSAA release.

MIL athletic directors have a meeting slated for Tuesday morning where the schedule and which sports will go forward will be discussed, according to several sources.

“I’m not surprised one bit,” Lahainaluna girls basketball coach Todd Rickard said Sunday. “I think this was coming from September already. It was just a matter of somebody making the call. I mean, I don’t know what took so long, but they made their call, so obviously we have got to move on to the next chapter.”

Rickard has guided the Lunas to 16 straight MIL titles and the 2010 state crown — the only Division I state basketball championship ever for the MIL, boys or girls.

Lahainaluna players huddle after defeating King Kekaulike for the MIL girls basketball championship on Jan. 28. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER

He said the 2021 season had the potential to be one of the best ever with impressive rosters returning for Lahainaluna, King Kekaulike and Maui High, which finished last season separated by just two games. Rickard is not optimistic about an MIL-only season taking place, however, especially with gymnasiums still off limits under Maui County guidelines.

“It would have been one of the better seasons for sure in girls basketball, maybe the best,” he said.

Today was the day that had tentatively been scheduled for conditioning practices to begin for most fall and winter sports.

“It’s kind of weird that we were supposed to start on the 4th, but the meeting is on the 5th,” Rickard said. “I’m pretty sure we know where this is headed. I think all the leagues do basically. I think we’re just going to follow suit with the OIA and the ILH. … Like I said, it’s not surprising.”

Rickard is now turning his attention to club season, which normally starts in March. He has three seniors — Aira Baguyo and twins Abigail and Ashley Akamine. Rickard said he is set to help them find college basketball options, if they want. He recently talked to a college coach who inquired about Baguyo.

Baldwin’s Tobey Ravida heads to a 6-0 victory over Lahainaluna’s Cael Yasutake in the boys 113 final on Feb. 22 at the Texaco/HHSAA State Wrestling Championships at the Blaisdell Center. JASON HAYASE photo

“A lot of our girls, they kind of have an idea already,” Rickard said of the likelihood that the 2020-21 season is gone. “We kind of let them know. We try to be positive and tell them to just keep themselves prepared so in case something miraculous does happen, we won’t be behind the ball.

“We know deep inside that this thing is not going go happen. Like I said, it’s a liability issue and nobody wants to take that liability and run with it and I understand. … That’s just the way it is nowadays and it’s tough.”

Rickard’s son Tre is a Lahainaluna senior and a standout in football and basketball. He said that Tre is leaning towards football in college, perhaps at a junior college to start with.

“Oh, man, it’s tough,” Todd Rickard said. “Every day he asks me the same thing: ‘Are we going to have a season? Are we going to have a season?’ I have got to tell him the same story over and over, ‘Brah, I cannot really give you an answer because there’s no answer to be given.’ You hit it on the nose, everybody is just kicking the can down the road.”

Maui High swim coach Reid Yamamoto, who last season led the Sabers boys to their first MIL title since 1994, said there is some movement on the swimming and diving front.

Seabury Hall’s Kahealani Haupu exits a victory tunnel after helping the Spartans mixed crew win the MIL title at Kahului Harbor on Jan. 25. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Since mid-November, swim clubs on Maui — Yamamoto is also the head coach of Hawaii Swim Club — have been able to have four swimmers per lane for practice in county pools, up from one when they were allowed to start workouts in July.

This month, however, the schedule has changed and HSC has just five afternoon workout days on the calendar, all on Sundays. Yamamoto thinks the afternoon workout times on weekdays have been reserved for high school teams. Although he has not been given confirmation of that, it is a sign that the prep ranks in swimming and diving may have a path forward.

The HHSAA announcement of the state meet being canceled “really wasn’t any surprise,” Yamamoto said. “We’ve been talking about that, I’ve been talking to my kids since the pandemic started regarding meets and all the state meets and things like that. I’ve pretty much prepared them, so it shouldn’t be a shock to them. I’m very sad for the seniors, though, because their state meet got taken away.”

Yamamoto is just thankful for what is available to his athletes, who are at least practicing during the HSC pool time.

He is hopeful that if MIL swimming does not go forward, the precious practice time in the afternoons will be turned back to the clubs. The clubs do have morning practice time from 7-8 a.m. four days a week, but that can conflict with the return to on-campus learning for high school students and teachers.

“My kids are pretty resilient, they learned to persevere during this period of time,” Yamamoto said. “They’re so strong because we talk about it every day. You know, ‘you can only control things you can control and you shouldn’t sweat the small stuff.’ “

Baldwin soccer coach Kaniela Palazzotto led the Bears to a co-state crown in 2018, the first ever for an MIL boys team.

“I want to say, overall, we do this because we want to help kids,” Palazzotto said. “I think that’s the part that we have to remember the most is that we’re taking something away that these kids have worked hard for, especially seniors who have been there for four years. They are trying to get something out of a season that is their last season in high school.”

Palazzotto expected the HHSAA announcement and is not overly optimistic for an MIL soccer season to proceed. Club soccer has seen some practices and a few games played in the last couple months on Maui.

He said Baldwin athletic director Wade Hondo has been communicating the situation quite well throughout the process, something that Rickard and Yamamoto said of their ADs as well.

“We’re just trying to finalize everything, but we’ve been just kind of holding on and holding on,” Palazzotto said. “Look, I’m pretty sure it wasn’t an easy decision for anyone involved. … I don’t hold a grudge towards nobody. It’s a tough situation, there’s people’s lives at stake and as Max Holloway says, ‘It is what it is.’

“You just try to keep moving forward and that’s kind of my message to my kids usually, is, ‘Life is going to throw us in many different ways. You know, it’s how you bounce back and how you keep moving and keep going forward with your life.’ Hopefully, that lesson has been brought on to these seniors in the last three years and they can keep moving forward.”

* Robert Collias is at rcollias@mauinews.com.

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