By MATT GERHART
Tribune-Herald sports writer
When Honokaa softball coach Wesley Fujimoto looks at his roster, he sees experience and the potential. But he’s also noticed some warning signs.
So when he’s asked to pinpoint a team strength, he chuckles.
“(We) look really good on paper,” he said.
However, according to their coach, the Dragons’ practices so far haven’t exactly been anything to write home about.
“Just by watching them, they’ve just been too lazy,” he said. “We’re supposed to be ahead of where we are. But we’re still cramming again up to last minute. They don’t seem to realize the season is coming around the corner.”
Ready or not, Honokaa opens play Saturday at home against defending Big Island Interscholastic Federation Division II champion Kamehameha.
Their coach’s frank assessment aside, the Dragons return a strong core in juniors Allie Shiraki, Hailey Paglinawan, Kaitlin Augustin and Kayla Kalauli and sophomore Jasmine Castro. In addition, they add a pair of key transfers in Shayla Ignacio (Hawaii Prep) and Precious Palea-Enos (Mililani, Oahu).
And it’s not like Honokaa hasn’t started slow before, only to pick up steam at midseason. Such was the case the past two years, when the Dragons found their way to the Hawaii High School Athletic Association tournament after finishing second and third, respectively, in the BIIF.
“Looks like every year it’s going to be the same,” Fujimoto said. “They don’t realize that they have got to get a jump from the beginning. We hang around at the start. At the end, they say, ‘Oh, we can do something.’”
With its first four games coming against Division II opponents in the new round-robin islandwide format, Fujimoto would prefer Honokaa buckle down from the start.
That’ll be easier if Paglinawan recovers quickly from a wrist injury she suffered during the soccer season. Fujimoto was hopeful Paglinawan, who can pitch, catch or play shortstop while anchoring the middle of the lineup, could return early in the season.
Either way, there are no shortage of candidates to pitch, and Fujimoto tabbed Augustin as the odds-on favorite to start in the circle Saturday.
“She just really got serious this year,” Fujimoto said, “and she’s been working hard.”
He said things are still up in the air at most positions, especially in the outfield corners, but the athletic Shiraki is a good bet to lead off and patrol center field.
Shiraki and infielders Kalauli, who can also pitch, and Castro made the all-BIIF West team last season.
Ignacio, a sophomore, and Palea-Enos bring versatility. Both are capable of pitching and playing the infield, and Ignacio could fill a void in the outfield.
“Precious has played ball before, so that will help a lot,” Fujimoto said. “Shayla could give us momentum in the bottom of our lineup.”
“Whoever shows they can hit and catch the ball, is going to end up playing (outfield).”
Junior Shennon Dela Rosa will see time at first base, and sophomore Kayla Requelman is another pitcher who could also play a utility role at a variety of positions. She showed off a power stroke last season with a home run at the state tournament.
Fujimoto didn’t deny that there are many pieces in place to make another run to Oahu. It’s just that so far he hasn’t seen enough motivation.
“Hopefully this year, we don’t have to flip the switch,” he said. “When it comes Saturday, we’ll see.
“A lot of them we have to remind them every single time what to do. I need to make a recording and just press play every time.”