To be large, strong and fast are key components in being the best there is on the mat. The Big Island Interscholastic Federation wrestling season is about to unfold and with it comes the best of them all in the heavyweight division.
Kamehameha’s Akoakoa Paleka-Kennedy stands 6’ 2”, weighs 285 pounds and during last season produced an unblemished record.
Paleka-Kennedy ended the 2010 season with a perfect 15-0 record on the mat and comes into this season as the heavy favorite to defend his BIIF and State crowns.
“I’m kinda excited for this upcoming wrestling season,” Paleka-Kennedy said. “I will give it my all and don’t hold back.”
The state champion stayed in shape during the off season by heading to the Kamehameha campus every morning to work out with his weight lifting conditioning coach, Kimo Weaver.
“I worked out every morning, Monday through Friday, from 6 to 7 am with Coach Weaver,” Paleka-Kennedy said. “I’m hoping to repeat as the BIIF and State Champion because I’ve improved my mental preparation and in the execution phase of wrestling.”
As the high school wrestling season is gearing up to take to the mat Kamehameha has bragging rights to the Big Islands only two returning state champions in both the smallest and largest weight divisions.
They say that good things come in small packages and nothing could be more accurate when talking about the Warrior’s Megan Aina who measures in at 5 feet even and weighs 98 pounds.
The petite Warrior is a bundle of dynamite when it comes to taking on all challengers on the mat. The senior comes in as the three time BIIF champion and was the Hawaii High School Athletic Association state champion during the 2010.
During her sophomore year Aina became the first BIIF girl to win a state individual championship in three years as a competitor in the smallest weight division.
Aina is not new to the state mat as she has slowly progress from a sixth place medal her freshman season to winning the state championship as a sophomore and finished fifth place as a junior last year.
Now in her senior year Aina hopes to return to repeat as BIIF champion and make it back to center stage at the state championships.
“I’d like to win my fourth BIIF title,” Aina said. “I’m not sure if I’m going to stay at 98 or move up to 105 and will make up my mind during the season.”
The Kamehameha girls return as the BIIF team champions which has veteran coach Marlon Miller smiling.
“We have a slew of seniors and juniors this year and as coaches we are very proud of all the accomplishments that our girls have shown on and off the mat,” Miller said.
Behind Kamehameha’s wrestling dynasty is an even further bright future. Besides Aina the Warriors bring to the mat the experience of Alexia Osburn and Kawehi Lopez.
“The class of 2015 has given our wrestling girls a tremendous boost in numbers and as coaches we hope that they will stay together and carry the future of the program with them,” Miller said.
Miller believes that the upcoming BIIF season will be extremely competitive for his girls as other schools have stepped up in their pre season conditioning.
“I believe this season will be one of the strongest for the girls as I’ve noticed how diligent all the schools were in their off season training,” he said. “In keeping in touch over the summer with Kealakehe’s Head Coach Mike Ciotti, I know that the West Side is ready.”
Kamehameha has already set personal goals for each of their wrestlers, according to Miller.
“The coaching staff wants to get our young athletes to believe that they can wrestle beyond high school,” Miller said. “Our only two seniors last year find themselves still wrestling. Rustee Johansen wrestles for Pacific University in Oregon and Justin Hirae attends Iowa State and is trying for a spot on the Cyclones.”
Kamehameha boys coach Brendan Courtot has 17 boys on the roster with six returning seniors.
“We have two champions in Nalu Souza at 120 and AkoakoaPaleka-Kennedy at 285,” Courtot said. “We have one BIIF runner-up in CJ Matuyama at 171 and three third place finishers, Kamalu Wright, 114, Charlie Aina, 130, and Kema Chin, 251.”
The Warrior boy’s team goals are to improve their showing at the state finals in which they placed sixth last season, according to Courtot.
“Our most improved wrestler last season was freshman Kalae Trask-Sharp as the kid worked hard, learned from his mistakes and improved all year long,” Courtot said.
Waiakea boys are the defending boy’s team champions and Coach Stanley Haraguchi has a lot of work ahead as the public school Warriors are caught in a rebuilding season.
“We lost a lot of boys to graduation,” Haraguchi said. “We are what we are as this sport comes with a lot of work and the kids will get out of it what they put into it.”
One of the bright spots for Waiakea comes with returning BIIF champion Pat Enos.
Waiakea girls return two time BIIF champion Tracy Poch at 155 as Coach Preston Sato tries to build the numbers of Warrior participants.
Kau returns defending BIIF champion Kiani Mello-Waiawaiole in the 220 division with Coach Greg Rush having high hopes for the Trojan program.
“We’ve got four girls and three boys,” Rush said. “Our key returnee is Kiani and her goal is the State Championship. We also have two of her younger sisters at 175 and 130.”
Rush is assisted by his wife Hettie along with Dylan Rush as a volunteer coach.
“We guarantee big improvement among the wrestlers and a tougher attitude on the mat,” he said.
Coach Dan Whetstone at Honokaa is not as fortunate as some of the other schools since they return no BIIF champions and bring to the mat a lot of new faces.
“I really can’t predict yet who will be our best wrestlers this year,” Whetstone said. “Maybe after a couple of preseason events I will have a better idea.”
At Hawaii Preparatory Academy Coach Gary Jarvill has high hopes for his two seniors, Shannon Samura at 140 and Troy Choi at 215.
“We have 20 boys and 15 girls this season with no BIIF champions,” Jarvill said.
Hilo’s coach Alex Kalawe has 25 wrestlers on the matt this season, with over half being first time wrestlers.
“We have three returning BIIF runner-ups in Jacob Murphy a senior who will wrestle at 140 this year,” Kalawe said. “On the girls side our runner-ups are Sha Pagan, a sophomore at 108 and Lahi Kanakanui, another sophomore, at 140.”
Kalawe considers this a rebuilding season for the Vikings as many of his wrestlers are still in the learning stages of the sport.
Pahoa coach Elvis Lum has 30 plus athletes coming out for wrestling this season which has the Dagger coach all smiles.
“Everything is up in the air right now as we are trying to figure out what we have,” Lum said. “Our most experienced wrestler and team captain is Jake Torres, a senior, who will either wrestle at the 145 or 152 class.”
Keaau is loaded with numbers as 50 boys and 10 girls have come out for the sport, according to head coach Charles Manning.
“We are really young,” Manning said. “Our BIIF returning champion is Cheyden Quiocho at 135.”
The Cougars are also coached by Elton Lum, who is the brother of Pahoa coach Elvis Lum.
Kealakehe coach Michael Ciotti is optimistic about his chances of competing for the boys and girls team crowns.
“We have 30 boys and 10 girls and they are all tough,” Ciotti said. “We worked hard during the off season and are prepared.”
The Waveriders return boys BIIF champion Robin Arllano at 114 along with girls league champion Destiny Maters also at 114.
As the BIIF wrestling season begins to unfold one of the key areas on the mat is getting qualified officials.
“One of the things that are always needed is trained officials to man our tables,” BIIF Wrestling Official Elton Suganuma said.
“Without good scorekeepers and timekeepers our matches are so much more difficult to manage. When you have to worry if your tables are getting the calls right as a referee, your focus is divided and that is never a good thing. We need interested people who are not affiliated with current teams to train to man our tables,” Suganuma said. “After all don’t our kids deserve the best we can give them?”
Several preseason tournaments are underway with most of the BIIF schools planning to participate at Kealakehe this weekend.
“We are looking forward to hosting the first all schools meet of the season,” Coach Ciotti said. “This first meet is an opportunity to see how we look and how everything is about to unfold.”
Hawaii High School Athletic Association state wrestling champion Kamehameha’s Megan Aina claimed second place medal in the 98 pound weight class at the Maui Wrestling Tournament held at War Memorial Gym in Wailuku on Dec. 21 and 22.
Aina, the defending Big Island Interscholastic Federation Queen lost during the finals on points to Kailua’s Allene Somera, 4 to 1.
“I’m not happy with the results,” Aina said. “I know I need to work on my take downs and practice more with the boys in order to improve.”
Aina had a first round bye then easily won her next two matches before facing Somera in finals.
“I took a shot and she got around me to score two points,” Aina said of her final match. “I have to practice harder and work harder this year in order to repeat for the state title. Everybody knows I’m the state champion and they’re gunning for me.”
Aina often works out with the Warrior boys and one of her partners is Nalu Kekona-Souza.
“Nalu helps me get better as he is bigger and stronger than I am,” Aina said. “I need to train more with him if I hope to get better.”
“If she was going to lose I’m glad she lost now,” Warrior girls coach Marlon Miller said. “Every state champion faces the same feeling that everyone is after them.”
Miller believes that the Maui experience was beneficial to Aina’s development as a wrestler.
“She (Aina) came to practice this week more focused, Miller said. “There isn’t that much competition for her in the BIIF, so getting the exposure on Oahu and Maui will only help her chances for repeating as a state champion.”
For her win over Aina in the finals Somera was voted the most outstanding girls wrestler in the Maui tournament.
Kekona-Souza, the defending BIIF champion, took second place in the 120 weight division dropping a nail bitter to Kaiser’s Ryan Nakagawa by a score of 4-3 in the championship final.
“I had two matches prior to the finals and I won both by pin,” Kekona-Souza said.
“I probably got to see the best wrestler in the state in my weight division,” he said of his finals match against Nakagawa.
Kekona-Souza believes that he made a critical mistake during the finals by not sprawling out during the closing minutes of the match.
“I should off flattened out and not used my hips,” he said. “Everyone one loses once in awhile and this loss was a very humbling experience.”
Warrior teammate Justin Hirae claimed fourth place in the 125 division while Konawaena’s Sage Aoki took third in the 120 division.
Waiakea’s Tyler Yonemori was the lone wrestler that the public school Warriors brought over to Maui. Yonemori is the defending BIIF champion at 140 was bumped up to the 145 division in Wailuku, won four of his five matches to claim third place.
“I lost to Chanse Uyeda in the third round on points, 3-1,” Yonemori said.
Uyeda from Lahainaluna is the same wrestler to beat Yonemori the week before at the Officials Tournament on Oahu.
“He’s a really good wrestler,” Yonemori said. “We were tied 1 to 1 with less than a minute to go in the match when he took me down for two points.”
Yonemori was appreciative of the opportunity to wrestle on Maui stating that it provided him with more experience against talented wrestlers.
“I’m learning better how to defend certain moves and I’ve been facing some strong opponents,” he said.
Keaau’s Cheyden Quiocho was the lone Cougar to participate on Maui as the junior wanted to gain more mat experience.
“I wanted to get in more matches against good competition,” Quiocho said. “It was pretty tough on Maui and I learned that I need to work a lot more on my technique.”
Quiocho, the BIIF runner up at 125 pounds, won his first two matches during
day one of competition before dropping his next two matches on the following day.
“I ended up wrestling for fifth place and won my final match,” he said. “I think I do well under pressure and I’m glad I was able to gain more experience.”
Lahainaluna won the boys team title with Kahuku winning the girls. Kamehameha-Hawaii was the top BIIF scoring team placing 13th overall for the boys and the girls.
The BIIF wrestling season officially gets underway with an all-schools meet at Kealakehe on January 8.
BIIF wrestling results from the Maui Tournament were provided by Kamehameha boys coach Brendan Courtot.
“This was a good experience for all our BIIF kids as they were all able to win at least one match,” Courtot said. “We were able to compete with everyone there which will benefit the quality of wrestling in our league.”
Boys 120lb Sage Aoki 3rd, Kona Nalu Souza, 2nd, Kamehameha
125lb Justin Hirae, 4th, Kamehameha Charlie Aina, DNP, Kamehameha
130lb Shannon Samura, DNP, HPA
135lb Cheyden Quiocho, 5th, Kea’au
145lb Tyler Yonemori, 3rd, Waiakea
189lb Kema Chin, DNP, Kamehameha
Girls 98lb Megan Aina, 2nd, Kamehameha
125lb Melissa Dumaguin, 3rd, Kona
DNP – Did Not Place
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.