HPU back home after crowning achievement
By Kalani Takase
Advertiser Staff Writer
A jubilant crowd of about 150 friends and family were on hand at Honolulu International Airport yesterday to welcome home the national champion Hawai'i Pacific University softball team.
The Lady Sea Warriors, who claimed the program's first NCAA Division II title in St. Joseph, Mo. on Monday, arrived in Honolulu on a United Airlines flight from Denver shortly after 3:15 p.m. Among the well-wishers awaiting the team were HPU president Chatt G. Wright, Athletic Director Darren Vorderbruegge and Pacific West Conference commissioner Bob Hogue, along with cheerleaders and members of the school band.
"This is something, isn't it? It's beyond anything we expected," Sea Warriors' head coach Bryan Nakasone said. "I'm very proud of the girls, they proved they had what it took to get it done. I don't know if all of this has sunk in yet ... maybe in a couple of days we'll realize what we did."
HPU senior pitcher Sherise Musquiz, who was named Most Valuable Player of the eight-team World Series, could think of no better way to end her collegiate career.
"Going out on top, can't really beat that," said Musquiz, a first-team All-American who went 4-0 in the tournament. "This whole experience has been so incredible for our team, it feels like we've come a long way."
Second baseman Casey Sugihara, one of three other seniors on the team, praised her team's perseverance in clutch situations.
"We've played some tough teams and we were in some really tight games up there," Sugihara said. "I think our team just refused to lose. We knew that we had to find a way to win each time."
HPU fell behind early in the title game when Valdosta State (Ga.) put up two runs in the first inning. However, the Sea Warriors rallied with four runs in the fifth and held off a late push by Valdosta State. Musquiz worked out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the bottom of the seventh to end the game and give HPU a 4-3 victory.
"We were the smallest team up there in terms of size and stature," said Nakasone. "Those teams were very good and very big, but these girls have tremendous heart and determination. They willed themselves to win."
Musquiz, who pitched every inning of HPU's four World Series games, was able to secure a prized possession amid the celebration.
"After (centerfielder) Kozy (Toriano) caught the last out, it was just crazy," Musquiz said. "She gave me the game ball right after she caught it. It'll probably go back home in a trophy case."
The title run was especially redeeming for Sea Warriors' assistant coach Howard Okita, who has been on the coaching staff since the program's inception in 1993. HPU's home field in Kāne'ohe is named after Okita, who said he will return for his 22nd season of collegiate coaching next year.
"I don't think it's hit me yet that we won," said Okita, who previously led Hawai'i Loa College to an NAIA national title in 1991 before the school merged with HPU in 1992. "We finally got a chance to host the Regional and Super Regionals, so I'm glad that we were able to prove that we deserved that honor."
Before the team returned home, Wright said he had received congratulations from people around the world.
"People were listening to it on the radio, watching it on the internet and reading about it in the newspaper — I've gotten hundreds of e-mails and phone calls from people all over the country and even out of the country," Wright said. "I don't know how they even heard about it, but mainly it's been a lot of alums calling ... This is a great celebratory moment for the HPU community."