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Speedy Spartans have makings of something special

Feb. 6—Bella Arrisgado tried soccer, tee ball, gymnastics and volleyball.

Eventually, she embraced hula. At 11, however, basketball became her true love. It led to club basketball and enrolling at Maryknoll as a middle schooler.

Hailey Perez tried golf when she was around 4, then soccer. She eventually figured she liked basketball because she "understood the game more." Perez also enrolled as a middle schooler and joined the Maryknoll varsity as a ninth grader.

Together the speedy guards — the 5-4 Arrisgado and the 5-3 Perez — are the turbochargers that are driving the vertically challenged Spartans as one of the favorites in the Division II state tournament.

Maryknoll — with the majority of its players standing between 5-3 and 5-6 — is in the midst of a 22-3 season, which includes a 7-3 record against Top 10-level teams. In Las Vegas, the Spartans went 3-1 at the Tarkanian Classic. The ILH Division II champions begin play in the Heide & Cook/HHSAA Girls Basketball State Championships on Wednesday against the Farrington-Kohala winner.

Arrisgado loves the grind of basketball, even while getting pushed by coach Chico Furtado.

"Whether it's 5 a.m. beach workouts or film sessions or just being yelled at, I wouldn't be who I am today without my coaches," the Spartans senior guard said.

Furtado remembers playing as a starting guard under former Chaminade coach Merv Lopes and the daily expectations.

"He was a demanding taskmaster, and I always felt he was more demanding of the local kids. He was on me and on me. It felt like this coach is picking on me. Looking back, you see what he was trying to do. I'm on you because I see something in you that I'm trying to get out," Furtado said. "I realized what Bella and Hailey can handle. I've got other kids who don't have the inner perseverance they have. These two won't fold. Somebody else might fall apart. I can be on them when they need it."

Initial meeting

Perez and Arrisgado first met while attending a Roundball club team practice.

"The only thing I remember was that she immediately got yelled at when she came into the gym wearing a Tar Heels shirt and was told to change," Arrisgado said. "She was small, but very fast. Hailey has always been a good friend. She's funny, bold and sweet. One thing I've always admired about her is her passion. I love the feeling of knowing my teammate has the motivation and passion to work hard."

Said Perez, a junior point guard: "To me, Bella is like an older sister. We grew up knowing each other — she had my back a lot. Knowing I can trust her and talk to her off the court makes it even better for me to trust her off the court."

Scoring 12 points per game for the fast-breaking Spartans — and playing tenacious defense — Arrisgado is often a blur on the hardwood. Thinking about her family keeps it all in perspective.

"My parents, I'm so thankful for them. They've made so many sacrifices for me. My dad quit his job to become his own boss to make his own money to provide for me and my family, and so we could go on a lot of trips for basketball. My mom works really hard," she said.

Arrisgado has a 3.6 grade-point average. Perez has a 3.5. Both student-athletes get as much work done during study halls and free periods as possible.

Dropping to D-II

Reality took a rough turn for key returnees Arrisgado, Perez, Janelle Yap, Madison Guillermo and their teammates in the offseason. Facing a combination of graduating talent, outgoing transfers and one player who opted to skip her season rather than play, Maryknoll decided to move down to Division II for the first time since 2008.

With an enrollment of 380, the Spartans went from being a perennial ILH and Division I title contender to a smallish team without size in the most rugged league in the state.

In a span of two seasons, the program withstood the departure of seven current varsity players. The final straw that broke the proverbial camel's back was the transfer of forward Elisa Holakeituai to Kahuku, where she now plays with her hometown friends and former PAL teammates.

Kahuku won the OIA championship on Saturday. Holakeituai, a 5-foot-11 senior, played an integral role with 10 rebounds, four points and two steals. Meanwhile, Maryknoll closed the regular season with a 12-0 mark, winning the ILH Division II crown.

In addition to Holakeituai's departure, a knee injury to forward Zoe Silva during the summer exacerbated Maryknoll's situation.

"Our second big, Zoe, tore her ACL in summer league," Arrisgado said. "There was talk about (moving to D-II) during the summer. At first, I didn't want to believe it. I disregarded it. When school started and it got closer to basketball season, that was when talk about moving down started to get real."

Shortly before the ILH season began, it was official. Furtado sat down with his senior parents and players first. The ramifications tested the depth of a young player's loyalty. It took time for the shock to wear off.

"My first reaction was no. I will do everything in my power to stay in D-I. I truly believed we could play in D-I even if we don't have bigs. We have the intensity and could compete," Arrisgado said. "When he broke the news, he told the senior parents first. My parents had a talk in the car. I was just gutted. Wow. It was just unfortunate."

It took some time, but the speedy Arrisgado came to grips with the reality. Competing with an undersized team and a shallow bench at the ILH D-I level wasn't what Furtado wanted. Eventually, she understood.

Perez was torn but understood.

"A part of me wanted to stay in D-I, but a part of me knew D-II was better for us as well. We needed to gain experience. We had a lot of comments made about us from other parents and teams," she said. "Honestly, they don't know our story. They can say whatever they want, but they don't know like we know."

"The way we handled the process, we did it systematically. We had many discussions with our AD. Met with our senior parents and players first. That was my first thought: This was about them," Furtado said. "We all felt the dismay, disappointment of last year. This is not about competing. Do you want to be in a state championship?"

Smaller but faster

With a much smaller, faster lineup, everything this season is at hyperspeed compared to years past.

"Last year, everything revolved around Taimane (Faleafine-Auwae) and Ciera (Tugade-Agasiva). Coach Chico said we had the two best bigs in the state. Coming into this year was so different, all about guard play, shooting 3s, driving and kicking," Arrisgado said.

Arrisgado has undergone some foundational changes as a senior.

"She's worked really hard on her game. Worked with Dennis Agena, gone to camps. Her game has really improved in those areas. She's become a really good shooter," Furtado said. "It's been off and on for her. She struggled at times with shooting, but as long as they're good looks, keep shooting. Shoot your way out of your slump. The other day at SHA she was 5-for-5 at 3-point line."

Arrisgado has hit a team-high 23 3-pointers for a Spartans squad that is averaging nearly 10 3-pointers made per game. She is explosive, twitchy and tough. She is also getting comfortable with her role as a shooter on a team that — unlike many of Furtado's championship squads of the past — hits the gas pedal often.

"We're looking forward to her having a great state tournament. Last year she was more of a defensive player for us. Had her on Haylie-Anne Ohta ('Iolani), Kya Kanoho (Kamehameha), Laynee Torres-Kahapea (Punahou), Theresa Anakalea (Damien). She did a really good job with that," Furtado said. "This year, transformation. We need you to score. We start four guards, play run and gun, shoot a boatload of 3-pointers. She's our captain. This last half of the season, she's been way more vocal, way more helpful with our younger players."

Perez has grown as their floor general. Furtado doesn't cut her any breaks. She still scores (11 ppg) while getting everyone into the flow of the offense, pushing the ball in transition again and again.

"Hailey was with us from ninth grade on the varsity. I knew in intermediate she was our point guard for the future. She had skill sets, just getting her to run the point, not being so out of control."

Perez, the junior class president, will have a heavier load next season after three starting senior guards graduate. Maryknoll will have a taller team with less game experience.

"Hailey's still a work in progress, trying to get her to be a vocal leader. She's a leader by example, no doubt. She works hard in school," Furtado noted. "Hailey and Bella absorb the message that's coming out. They are basically what we try to mold our kids into. Competitive on the basketball court, at the same time being good people. It always surprises me when players can continue to persevere when their coach is constantly on them."

Perez is poised and fearless regardless of bigger opponents. She has conquered the challenges of the past year, including rehabbing from the LCL injury,

"God always has a plan. Whatever falls upon his timing, we should look forward to. The timing of this year, when we've had some downfalls, losing some players and having some injuries, it was his timing for me to step up as a junior this year, to show what I can do," she said. "Losing Taimane and Ciera, it was hard, but it was good for me to show I can lead the team, as well."

Soon, Arrisgado will be on her way to college. She hasn't settled on one yet but is likely to leave the islands.

"What makes us proud about Bella as a person is that she has a good temperament and she is not overly dramatic about any one given thing," said her father, Pedric. "She is empathetic and always tries to make people feel welcome."

HAILEY PEREZ

Maryknoll basketball —Junior

Top 3 movies/shows

1. "10 Things I Hate About You"

2. "Coco"

3. "Avatar: The Last Airbender"

"I've seen '10 Things I Hate About You' at least 10 times. Sometimes I watch it with my friend."

Top 3 food/snacks/drinks

1. Spicy ahi bowl (Foodland)

2. Iced matcha latte (Starbucks)

3. Chicken Alfredo (Pizza Hut)

Top 3 homemade foods

1. Mom's shoyu chicken

2. Auntie Arlene (Perez)'s chicken adobo

3. Dad's fried noodles

"My mom (Kehau) makes shoyu chicken every other week. It depends when we ask. We usually eat chicken adobo when my auntie makes it for the holidays. My dad (Aris) makes noodles I'd say like every other week, too. I can make the fried noodles. I've helped him with it."

Top 3 music artists

1. Drake — "Look What You've Done"

2. Morgan Wallen — "One Thing at a Time"

3. Maoli — "Country Reggae"

Favorite class: English, sophomore year

"I had a really good class. The teacher is one of my favorites, Mr. (Wayland) Chan."

Favorite athlete: Kobe Bryant

Funniest teammate: Madison Guillermo

"She's just so clueless. She's a naturally funny person. I think it's authentic."

Smartest teammate: Madison Guillermo

"She can be so ditzy, but when it comes to school, she's so smart."

Favorite motto/scripture: Isaiah 60:22

"When the time is right, the Lord will make it happen."

"God always has a plan. Whatever falls upon his timing, we should look forward to. The timing of this year, when we've had some downfalls, losing some players and having some injuries, it was his timing for me to step up as a junior this year, to show what I can do. Losing Taimane (Faleafine-Auwae) and Ciera (Tugade-Agasiva), it was hard, but it was good for me to show I can lead the team, as well."

GPA: 3.5

"I like to just do my work as soon as I can. After school, I usually have practices or games, and I don't want to worry about it when I get home. I have to get up super early in the morning, and sometimes I get home kind of late."

College plan: "I want to major in kinesiology."

Hidden talent: Snowboarding

"I snowboarded in Alaska, California and Canada. My favorite place was Whistler, Canada, because of the soft snow and a better mountain."

New life skill: Driving

"I just got my license."

Bucket list: "I really want to go to Japan. Tokyo. I feel like my bucket list is me just traveling to places I see online. The Bahamas. Paris. Greece. Australia. I want to go to a Drake concert."

Shout-outs: "Shout out to my brother. I can honestly say my family. My Legacy Hoops Hawaii club team. My Maryknoll girls, my teammates."

ISABELLA ARRISGADO

Maryknoll basketball —Senior

Top 3 movies/shows

1. "Harry Potter" movies

2. "Twilight" movies

3. Any Marvel movie

"Harry Potter is so nostalgic. I like all the Marvel movies. I don't think there's any Marvel movie I don't like."

Top 3 foods/drinks

1. Sushi (Ninja Sushi)

2. Acai bowl (HiBlend)

3. Steak (Stuart Anderson's)

"I love their steak, medium."

Top 3 homemade food

1. Taco salad

2. Chef's salad

3. Mom's pasta

"Me and my mom make taco salad. She makes pesto, fettuccine. I can make her salads, but not her pastas."

Top 3 music artists/favorite song

1. Bob Marley — "Natural Mystic"

2. Drake — "Hold On, We're Going Home"

3. Lauryn Hill — "Ex-Factor"

"My mom is a big Bob Marley fan. Lauryn Hill could've done so much with her career, but if that's what she thought what's best for her, that's good."

Favorite athlete: Kobe Bryant

Funniest teammate: Madison Guillermo

"She's just always a fun person to be around. She's always bubbly. She never fails to make me laugh, even in the toughest situations."

Smartest teammate: Madison Guillermo

"I think our whole team could agree on that. Her ditziness is so funny."

GPA: 3.6

"It's definitely challenging. I use a calendar every day so I know what I'm doing every day, every week, every month. That structure helps me a lot in general. I always make sure that I'm trying to do something productive with my time, not taking long breaks. Being a student-athlete is really demanding."

Favorite class: AP Language and Composition

"It's definitely a pain, but I like it because I learn a lot. The late nights working on essays and figuring out what's this and that. It's like Shakespeare, studying his work and what is he saying. At the same thing, I got to learn a lot. We definitely dive into a lot of Old English. It really takes a lot of thinking. There's countless nights when I was up to 2 or 3 a.m. doing work for this class."

Hidden talent: Dancing

"I danced hula and Tahitian since I was 2 or 3. I stopped when I was 11 or 12 to focus on basketball. I definitely miss it, but I'm glad I stopped. I might go back after college, just to keep my body active when I'm older."

New life skill: Driving

"I did learn how to drive, but I don't have my license, which I'm pretty embarrassed about, but I do have my permit. I'm waiting until I'm 18 so I don't have to go through driver's ed."

Bucket list: "Continue my education at a university and play basketball. Find a stable career, go to iconic places like Greece, Japan and Bali. Go to Europe and eat all kinds of foods. Trying foods from all over the world. One of the goals I have is to give back to the people that supported me."

If you could go back in time, what would you tell your younger self?

"Embrace failure as a learning opportunity. To know as a young person, set yourself up for success. Take pride in having strong relationships and friendships. To believe in your abilities to overcome challenges. Have confidence."

Shout-outs

"I want to first acknowledge that none of this would be possible without my coaches. My dad, Chico (Furtado), (Dennis) Agena and all the coaches in my club teams. Coach Aris, Sundays beach. Saturdays, Kakaako. Kailua — but storm messed it up so we went to Nanakuli.

My parents, I'm so thankful for them. They've made so many sacrifices for me. I'm def not the easiest person to parent. But they give me unconditional love and support.

I want to shout out everyone who's been a part of my journey.