By WAYNE JOSEPH
There were no golf balls being hit at the Naniloa Driving Range on Saturday morning, but Hawaii Pacific’s Polina Babkina sure zipped around like one.
Babkina won the University of Hawaii at Hilo’s annual cross country invitational Saturday at scenic Naniloa Volcanoes Resort.
And while the UHH women finished fourth out of the four scoring teams in the Pacific West Conference meet, there were a pair of ex-Big Island Interscholastic Federation coaches leaving their mark.
Karl Honma, a former longtime Hawaii Preparatory Academy coach, was on hand and led the Hawaii Pacific University women to a team victory.
“I was at HPA for 17 seasons and this is the 20th anniversary of the Ka Makani boys winning a state championship,” Honma said.
Honma, who now works with the HPU girls, was quick to point out that he is only a letter away from his former school.
“There is no place like being on the Big Island,” Honma said.
Babkina, from Russia via West Alabama, won the 3-miler by traversing the loops on the flat, all-grass surface in 18:12.
“This is my second month in the PacWest and I wish there was more competition,” she said. “I hit all of my splits and I had to push myself.”
HPU won the girls team scoring with 24 points, followed by Brigham Young University-Hawaii (44), Chaminade (80) and UHH (84).
Nadia Ramirez led the Lady Vulcans, placing eighth overall in 19:48. Also competing for the hosts were Keri Fujiwara (15th, 20:51), Jordan Bledsoe (16th, 21:11), Justina Wood (22nd, 23:49) and Hillary Ramos (23rd, 26:39).
Ramirez, a 2011 Hilo High graduate, has led the team this season and posted the Vulcans’ fastest times despite having what she calls “a love-hate relationship with running.”
“(UHH) Coach Jaime (Guerpo) doesn’t let me quit and he pushes me,” she said.
With a bare-bones budget and no scholarships, Guerpo has raised only enough funds for the Lady Vuls to travel, but it’s still difficult for them to compete against other PacWest schools.
“Next season we’ll have a limited scholarship budget, which means I can go out and recruit some runners,” Guerpo said.
For the men, BYUH’s Spencer DeAvilla won the individual title again.
It wasn’t as easy for DeAvilla this time around, as he was chased by Chaminade’s Jorge Cisneros in what was a near photo finish. Both men clocked in at 15:48.
DeAvilla, a senior, took the early lead just 100 meters into the race.
“I probably went out too fast, but the course was flat with no hills and the weather was ideal,” he said. “I love coming to Hilo and I love this course.”
DeAvilla kept a modest lead throughout the race before Cisneros made his move.
“In the closing parts of the race I became a little worried,” DeAvilla said. “It’s a good thing we practiced speed work during the week.”
BYUH captured the team title with 23 points. HPU (49) was second and Chaminade (63) third.
That made for a clean sweep for former BIIF coaches as BYUH’s Norman Kaluhiokalani, a former Ka’u High coach from 1971 to 1973, led his Seasiders to the men’s crown.
“I’ve been at BYUH since 1973, some 39 years and I’ve been very blessed to have produced many men’s and women’s team champions while being there,” he said. “Coach Jaime really has done a lot to improve this course over the years.”
For Guerpo, hosting a race is a good opportunity to showcase Hilo to the rest of the conference.
“I love planning and hosting a PacWest meet,” he said. “It’s a good course and I get lots of positive feedback from the rest of the runners and coaches in the conference.”
Guerpo gave lots of credit to his timing crew and support staff for making it all possible.
“Howard Meguro let us run on the driving range and even practice on it,” Guerpo said.
Due to the low impact on the muscles, some teams, such as the HPU girls, ran the 3 miles barefooted.
“You can also run it with spikes, flats or in the case of the HPU women, even barefooted,” Guerpo said.
This is Guerpo 14th season at UHH and his fourth season hosting the Invitational at Naniloa.
On tap for the Lady Vulcans are travel dates on Oct. 27 for the PacWest finals and the regionals on Nov. 3.