Good Things In Small Packages
Minutes before the tip-off of a recent Hawaii Pacific University women’s basketball game, Matthew Liao-Troth, the school’s vice president, hustled into Blaisdell Arena accompanied by his two young daughters. When they all nestled into their seats in the front row, he leaned over to me. “They love coming to watch No. 1,” he says, pointing to the court.
His two daughters, 12-year-old Avery and 9-year-old Georgia, couldn’t take their eyes off the Sharks’ diminutive senior point guard, No. 1 Kylie Huerta, listed at 5-foot-1 in the program. Neither could HPU president Geoffrey Bannister and his wife Jerri, nor athletic director Vince Baldemor— nor could I. We all were entranced by the remarkably big numbers being put into the scorebook by the PacWest’s smallest player.
Huerta, who has helped the Sharks to an unbeaten record in conference play as I write this story, hit for 27 points in this particular game, and also pulled down nine rebounds. She’s been the sparkplug that has pushed HPU to first place in the PacWest.
“In my bare feet, I guess I’m actually about 5 feet, a quarter inch,” she says, “but I’ve been able to use my small size to my advantage. I’ve lived with it all my life, so I’m used to it. In fact, if I’m not playing people bigger and taller than me, it seems kind of weird.”
Huerta hails from Covington, Wash., a town about 40 minutes south of Seattle. She says she’s played basketball all her life, and she’s excelled enough that she played NCAA Division I hoops at Eastern Washington before deciding to transfer to HPU for her senior season.
“There are three of us from Eastern Washington. It’s not often you see three DI players (on a DII team) from the same school,” she says. “I came here because Morgan Comstock (a 6-foot-2 senior center, who transferred from Eastern Washington to HPU as a junior a year ago) is my best friend; we’ve played together since back in the sixth grade. She kept telling me how much she loved it here, so I made the choice to come myself. I love Hawaii.”
Huerta and Comstock have another reason to team up again: They both played youth basketball with a good friend Carly Stowell, who passed away suddenly from heart disease at a young age. “We bonded so much from that,” Kylie recalls. “It’s a blessing to come here and play together again. I know (Carly) is looking down on us and watching over us.”
One other former Eastern Washington player has joined Kylie and Morgan. That’s 5-foot-9 senior guard Chenise Peone. “We’ve worked so hard since we got here,” Kylie says. “Ever since the preseason, we hit the beach for some very tough workouts — the toughest I’ve ever experienced. Some people were throwing up and some couldn’t keep up — it was that intense.”
The hard work and familiarity have paid great dividends so far. HPU stormed out to several key non-conference victories during November, then continued that great success when PacWest play started in December.
“Our goal is to win the conference, it’s that simple,” she says. “We’ve got great players and a great team, and we’ve come together so well.”
Huerta also has great fans, and with the way she’s been playing — weaving her way almost effortlessly around much taller opponents, hitting floaters in the lane, along with many long-range three pointers — her fan base continues to grow.
Kylie Huerta is making this a senior season to remember for all times.