LAHAINA - It has been an eventful summer for the members, coaches and families of the Lahaina Wrestling Club, an organization made up of the Lahainaluna High School team.
Taking giant steps toward reaching the ultimate goal of state team titles in both the boys and girls divisions, the team members began their "vacation" with the Steve Knight Camp at Lahainaluna, traveled to the Mainland to train and compete there and then returned to Maui for a cultural exchange competition with a Nebraska all-star roster.
Over the years, the youth wrestling program here on the West Side has been on a steady upward climb led by, among others, Neal Nakata, Kim Ball, Todd Hayase and Conrad Bolor, as well as a new wave of coaches in Shane Cunanan and Zane Monteleone.
Connor Mowat won his match against a visiting wrestler from Nebraska outdoors at Kaanapali Beach Hotel.
The Lahainaluna boys team has captured six straight Maui Interscholastic League championships and finished in the top five at the state tournament in those years, while the girls team has won two straight MIL titles and taken second and third at states.
So, as the West Side youth programs continued to gain momentum to develop deep rosters for the high school team, the Lunas appear to have taken still another tremendous stride toward the top of the mountain and that coveted - and elusive - state team championship.
Lahaina Wrestling Club has been the vehicle to take the high school team to higher levels of performance with support - namely fundraising - for team members, which enabled them to travel to the elite Owen Camp in Eastern Washington and the Excel Team Camp at Estes Park in Colorado this summer.
Zach Wigzell, Gina Miyamoto, Christian Balagso, Gary Long, Jansen Panlasigui Domingo, Mark Alamon, Robert Campos, Wyatt Chism, Kahi Tihada, Bubba Jaramillo, Thomas St. John, Gio Perez, Riley Pasion, Connor Mowat and Josten Saribay all took part in the advanced training and competition there that resulted in a first place trophy at the Excel event and a runner up finish at the Owen competition.
Last week, Kaanapali Beach Hotel - the resort that always seems to be there in support of the Lahaina community and Hawaiian culture in general - hosted a cultural and goodwill match between the Lahainaluna team and an all-star team from the hotbed of wrestling in the Midwest and the State of Nebraska.
"What a unique and beautiful experience this was for all of us," exclaimed Coach Ball.
"We've never seen a competition in a setting like this on the grass just steps from the ocean and at sunset time here in West Maui. We are so thankful to KBH and their staff - especially Susan Reinhardt and Tom Fairbanks - for their support and help in putting this event on. Their generosity will go a long way in promoting the goodwill between Hawaii and the Midwest states like Nebraska."
As will the aloha of Kim, his wife, Cindy, along with Michelle and Gary Lincoln, who hosted the Nebraska team in their Lahaina homes.
The Nebraska team, made up of three state champions from last season as well as six state placers, overwhelmed the Lunas by a score of 61-3, with Mowat the only winner.
But, as Ball would comment following the match, "This competition will help our team to get better, as all of us learned a thing or two from them. Coach Tom McCann (the Nebraska team coach who has been honored with five state "Coach of the Year" awards and was named "National Coach of the Year" in 2005) is an outstanding mentor who coached at a rival high school while my brother, Lindsay, and I were competing.
"They started this trip with a similar match on the Big Island, came over for more goodwill competition here on Maui and will end their travels with another event in Honolulu. This has really been great for all of us."