It will be a season of rebuilding and mystery, according to several Big Island Interscholastic Federation wrestling coaches.
“I spoke with several of the coaches at our coaches meeting and it sounds like many teams, like us, graduated a lot of wrestlers last year and are in the rebuilding stages,” Honokaa coach Dan Whetstone said.
Whetstone believes that there are no clear favorites to win the boys BIIF team title and that Kamehameha has the inside track at winning the girls title.
“The only wrestlers I have returning that have a track record are Jessica Muskat and Geo Chavez-Pardini,” Whetstone said. “The only girl that Jessica lost to on the island last year has graduated, so she should be the girl to beat in her weight class and she should improve on her sixth place finish from last year’s state tournament.”
Chavez-Pardini suffered a knee injury while working out with a state all star team on Oahu over the summer and Whetstone says that it will be hard to predict what his recovery time table will be.
“We’re hopeful that Geo can regain his previous form by the time league championships roll around, if not sooner,” Whetstone said.
Kamehameha girls return as the BIIF team champions and are lead by senior Rustee Johansen.
Johansen is the BIIF champ at 130 pounds and is a Warrior team captain.
“I stayed in shape by working out during the summer and lifting weights,” Johansen said. “My goals are to have another successful year and to do better than my fifth place finish at states last year.”
Coach Marlon Miller returns as the Kamehameha girls coach and is looking at several returnees along with a host of new, young talent.
“I’ve been blessed with a great returning squad of young ladies,” Miller said.
Starting at the 98 pound class Kamehameha returns state champion and two time BIIF champ, Megan Aina. Aina, along with 11 other Warrior girls began the preseason by competing in the Punahou Girls Invitation on Nov 27 and was very impressive on the mat.
Aina, with teammate Jasmine Iuta, 175, won their weight classes with six other Warriors placing in the Punahou tournament which had over 230 girls competing.
“I still need to practice harder and work harder if I hope to defend for the state title,” a humble Aina said.
Iuta, just a sophomore, won both her matches at Punahou by pin and considered the tournament to be a good momentum builder going into the BIIF season.
“It was great experience for me to come and wrestle on Oahu,” Iuta said. “We did great as a team and we all benefited from the experience.”
“We did very well at Punahou as we had medalist in eight of the 11 weight classes,” Coach Miller said. “Punahou looks like the team to beat in the state and Molokai will be the sleeper this year.”
The Warriors have Kanoe Padaken, second in BIIF last season, and the Pohina sisters, Noelle and Pomai returning to the mat.
“Jasmine Iuta, Liana Soares and Sable Marie Young are three more of my returning sophomores that should secure the future of this girls program when I’m long gone,” Miller said.
Miller is also high on Alexia Osburn, saying that she will add to the Warriors strength on the mat.
“I have a total of seventeen girls this year and although that is a great number to have I do have a few weight classes that I am unable to fill,” he said.
Miller believes that this is the best girls recruiting class he has ever had and that they will make a strong bid to repeat as team champions.
On the boys side the Warriors are led by second year coach Brendon Coutot and feature three time BIIF champion, Justin Hirae.
Nalu Kekona-Souza and Akoakoa Paleka-Kennedy will anchor a talent squad along with Charlie Aina, Gavriel DeRego and Kema Chin.
“I expect a solid performance from our two other juniors, Jason Roland-Fernandez and CJ Matsuyama,” Miller said. “We have numerous first year wrestlers that have excelled beyond our expectations as coaches. The recruitment numbers aren’t quite what we would like them to be, but what we lack in quantity, we more than make up in enthusiasm and determination.”
Hawaii Preparatory Academy’s Gary Jarvill returns three boys and three girls from last year’s squad.
“Shannon Samura, Troy Choi and Leila Wong all went to state last year and should do well again this season,” Jarvill said. “We will be rebuilding and starting from scratch this season with all of the other new wrestlers.”
Keaau Coach Charles Manning chose not to speculate on the Cougar chances this season, saying that it was too early to tell.
“I do not like to speculate this early in the season as to who will be the tops in weight classes as I feel that it is counterproductive,” Manning said. “As for team expectations we expect to work hard and improve all season long. I’m sure we will be represented well in the BIIF when championships are on the line.”
The Konawaena Wildcats graduated several key grapplers, but still managed to return some BIIF champions.
“Melissa Dumaguin, a senior, and Tanalei Louis, a sophomore, both return for us, including my son Sage Aoki,” Wildcat coach Mark Aoki said.
Dumaguin won the BIIF crown at 130, while Louis took the 125 division and Aoki battled to victory at 108.
“Some of our BIIF champions may be moving up in weight this season, but we’ll just have to wait to see where they’ll be at,” Aoki said. “Kona is in a rebuilding year as most of our team is made up of new kids. I think Kealakehe is in the same situation as us, but Kamehameha seems to have the edge for the girls.”
Kau has a returning sophomore, Keani Mello-Waiaiaole who won the heavyweight, 220 bracket, as a freshman last year.
“Keani will return for us along with two of her sisters and all three should do well,” Trojan coach Kevin Rence said.
Kealakehe, the defending boy’s team champion, is going through their own rebuilding year as the mighty ‘Riders have won seven league championships over a nine year period.
The secret to Kealakehe’s success has come in their ability to be competitive in most or all of the 14 weight classes.
“We have 25 boys out for wrestling this year and I’m hoping we can once again fill all the different weight divisions,” ‘Rider coach Mike Ciotti said.
Leading the way for Kealakehe is defending BIIF champion Tim Eckert in the 215 weight class.
“Tim’s returning for us along with sever boys that placed at the BIIF championships last year,” Ciotti said. “We’ve won four consecutive boys team titles and we should be competitive in going for our fifth in a row.”
Some coaches failed to return phone calls regarding the upcoming wrestling season which begins on Saturday, Dec. 11, at Waiakea.