Budget cuts will further delay return to normalcy for UHH athletics

  • UH-Hilo third baseman Chloe Domingo catches the ball before Hawaii Pacific’s Cieana Curran makes it to the base during a game at Walter Victor Field in Hilo on Thursday, May 6, 2021.

UH-Hilo athletic director Pat Guillen is expecting a curveball with the impending statewide budget cuts, but he’s already two steps ahead.

“It’s not affecting us yet,” he said. “It’ll be next year, and it’s still in the process. I don’t know what it’s going to be. All I know is we’re planning to figure out how to make things work.”

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As far as things returning to normal, that may take a long time. UHH will have a modified schedule, fewer games, and more home games for large-roster teams like baseball, softball, and soccer to save money.

Guillen pointed out it’s still costly to hand out guarantees to pay visiting teams, but not as expensive to fly to the mainland, rent vans, and pay for hotels and meals.

“We’re looking at baseball starting in June,” he said. “The team sports, their conference schedules will be modified, shorter mainland trips. I don’t think anything will be normal. I have contracts I signed for nonconference games for soccer with Seattle Pacific and Western Washington. We’ll have more home games.”

Guillen pointed out that the mainland schools are struggling with financial issues, impacted due to COVID-19. The pandemic hammered athletic programs in all divisions.

Only the elite programs, like Texas and Alabama with their football programs, cut from the NCAA basketball championships and their own TV network deals, make an annual profit.

A majority of programs, like UHH and UH-Manoa, bleed red ink. It’s more a matter of how much.

But the small-school, off-the-map Vulcans can make a dent when their men’s tennis team finishes third at the NCAA Division II championships for the second year in a row. It’s a non-revenue sport and costs the school money to send the team on the road. The tradeoff is the exposure from the national run.

“Last year, coach Kallen Mizuguchi’s phone was rising off the hook,” Guillen said. “Kula (Oda, associate AD and a former UHH tennis coach) and Kallen are local guys. They’re connected to the tennis hui and well connected. That’s one of our goals to keep the local kids here.”

The school’s tennis courts are being demolished now and the new facilities should be ready by next year, Guillen said. The softball stadium is also being revamped, too.

While the men’s tennis team has been successful, it’s not the same for the women. Guillen is hoping a top BIIF player will see the new courts next year and decide to stay home.

The two most important people for girls BIIF tennis are Waiakea coach Bill Brilhante, who not only turns out league and team champions but blue-chip Division I players as well, and Hilo coach Wayne Yamada, who already has one of his players, Casydee De Mattos on the roster. Brilhante has one, too, in Chloe Teramoto.

Brilhante’s three best players daughter Maile Brilhante (Pacific), Keilyn Kunimoto (Idaho State), and Anna Oda (Gonzaga), all 2020 Waiakea graduates, signed with Division I schools. They missed an opportunity to win HHSAA state team and singles titles last year.

It also helps that there has been a major culture change at two of UHH’s most popular sports, men’s basketball and baseball. Hoops coach Kaniela Aiona posted the first winning season since 2011, and baseball coach Kallen Miyataki snapped the NCAA’s longest losing streak of 26 years in 2019 and went to the postseason this year for the first time since 1989.

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“We’re building a new soccer field,” Guillen said. “I hope the local kids, on Oahu and the Big Island, take notice. Our program is on the rise. We’re putting money into our programs and facilities.

“We’ll put a pickleball court on one of the practice courts, and it’ll be good for the community. We’ve had good momentum and it has put UHH back on the map.”

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