Good things often come in small packages and for Konawaena’s Alexandra Aoki nothing could be truer.
Aoki, just under 108 pounds soaking wet, is one of the most fierce competitors in wrestling and returns for her senior season as the two time Big Island Interscholastic Federation champion and the Hawaii High School Athletic Association runner-up for her sport.
Aoki has gone undefeated in BIIF competition over the past two seasons where she has won titles in the 98 and 103 weight classes. She finished second in the state at 103 and is the only returning BIIF wrestler (boy or girl) to have placed that high in a state championship last year.
(Hilo’s Teenaysha Yadao and Kealakehe’s Pomai Barton were also HHSAA runner-ups last season and have since graduated.)
Aoki is considered to be a heavy favorite to win her third consecutive BIIF title, but the decision hasn’t been made if she will return at 103 or move up to the 108 weight class.
Defending boys and girls team champions Kealakehe looks to bring to the mat another strong squad under first year head coach Michael Ciotti.
Over the past eight years the ‘Riders have won six BIIF boys team titles and four team title for the girls.
Leading the Wave Riders is the defending girls BIIF champions Jolynn Kahala-Minezer, 114, and Jodi Ozaki, 120, with BIIF runner-up at 103, Mindy Lorance. All three girls are seniors and will be at the top of the league leader board throughout the season
Defending boys individual BIIF champion Tim Ekert, at 189, will move up to the 215 class this season and should help a large ‘Rider team compete for another league title.
“We carry 25 boys on our team and we can fill all 14 weight classes,” Coach Ciotti said. “Our team works hard and they are very coachable kids. We try to keep the family atmosphere and our kids maintain a high work ethic.”
At Honokaa coach Dan Whetstone returns BIIF champion Geo Chavez-Pardini. “Geo should capture the 160 pound title again this year,” Whetstone said. “I think we have a good chance of having champs in the 171 and 189 weight divisions as well.”
Whetstone predicts that Dragon teammates Kali Niau and Preston Cawagas will battle for the 171 weight class with the loser moving up to the 189 class and will then need to compete against Kaimana Lutey for a spot on Honokaa’s first team.
“We have 21 boys on the roster and should have wrestlers in at least 11 of the 14 weight classes,” Whetstone said.
For the girls Honokaa has five returning seniors and should have wrestlers in nine of the 11 weight classes. “Our girls finished third at BIIF’s last year and could finish higher this year if they can get past Kamehameha and Kealakehe who figure to be the other top girl’s contenders,” Whetstone said.
Whetstone believes that perennial champion Kealakehe will again be the team to beat for the boy’s title. “From what I’ve seen at the official weigh-ins earlier this month a lot of teams have an increase in the number of wrestlers from last year. This might be our best chance to capture a title for a few years as we have 11 seniors on the squad and many of the other teams are in a rebuilding phase,” the Dragon coach said.
Kamehameha coach, Marlon Miller, also sees the Kealakehe as the team to beat. “I would have to give the edge on the boys and girls team to the ‘Riders due to the size of their enrollment as well as their experience coaching staff,” he said.
The Warriors return two time BIIF boys champion, Justin Hirae, at 120 pounds, along with defending girl’s champions, Megan Aina, 103 and Pomai Pohina, 130.
“Megan and Pomai are sophomores and have been working hard to retain their title,” Miller said. “Megan did well at the Maui Invitational winning the 103 division teching the Mid-Pac girl 17-2 in the championships. Pomai was forced to wrestle at 140 on Maui due to the strict guidelines that wrestlers must follow in their weight loss program,” Miller said.
Kamehameha has more than 20 girls out for wrestling, but are not able to fill the 11 different weight classes. “Most of the girls are in the same weight, so I have the numbers but will find myself having a hard time filling the different weight divisions,” Miller said.
On the boys side Kamehameha is very young and will have some holes to fill going into the season. “We had a hard time retaining boys due to the vigorous training we put them through,” Miller said. “I’m hoping we will be able to fill as many of the weight classes prior to the start of the regular season.”
Hawaii Preparatory Academy returns BIIF champions Bronson Kobayashi, 145, and Keoni Colson, 152 and Coach Gary Jarvill has high hopes for Marie Donahue. “Our boy’s team will be well balanced this season with many returning wrestlers that are seniors,” Coach Jarvill said.
“Marie (Donahue) will be tough at 114-120,” Jarvill said. “She earned second place at Maui and should be a leader on our girl’s squad.”
Despite some preseason losses the HPA coaching staff remains optimistic of a good season. “I took six wrestlers to the Officials Tournament on Oahu for more pre-season matches, but none of them made it into the top six,” Jarvill said. “We did well for the amount of practice time we have had thus far.”
The BIIF wrestling season officially begins on Saturday, Jan. 2, with an all schools meet at Konawaena High School.