LAHAINA - For the student-athletes, their coaches and family support groups, high school wrestling is a gut-wrenching experience that brings out the deepest of competitive emotions. And nowhere is the exposure of heart and the human spirit more evident than at the Hawaii High School Athletic Association State Championships.
It is here that the outstanding high school wrestlers from across the state - girls and boys ranging from lightening quick 97-pounders to 285-pound power technicians - converge on the glistening expanse of the Neil Blaisdell Arena floor to compete in the ultimate championships of interscholastic athletics in Hawaii. And it is here that, year after year, the tradition and glory of Lahainaluna High School shines on.
Two weeks ago before a capacity crowd, and for the first time on a statewide television presentation by OC16 Sports, the Lahainaluna team led by the coaching staff of Todd Hayase, Neal Nakata, Kim Ball, Conrad Bolor, Shane Cunanan and Zane Monteleone - as well as the largest Neighbor Island family support contingent in the arena - carried forward the sterling tradition of championship effort that has established the Luna program as a definitive force of the HHSAA.
Lalelei Mata‘afa trips Kaydie Lynn Tehotu of McKinley High School in the finals. Mata‘afa pinned Tehotu in 1:33 to become one of only two freshmen to win titles at this year’s state tournament. PHOTOS BY TOM COOPER
Both the Lahainaluna girls and boys teams won third place bronze trophies in the fiery, two-day competition in Honolulu.
Thirteen boys and ten girls earned tickets to the state meet by way of top finishes at the Maui Interscholastic League Championships a month ago, where the Lady Lunas won their fourth straight team title and the boys extended their gold medal streak to eight.
"Now there is only one thing on our minds," said Coach Hayase after the MIL event. "We are going after state championships."
The Luna boys lost two of their top guns to disciplinary infractions late in the season and were forced to juggle their lineup for the state championships.
But, as the saying goes, it was a case of the next man up - and at Lahainaluna, there is always a rock solid wrestler in a red singlet ready to step onto the mat.
"We moved some guys around, and we went up to Honolulu with confidence in both teams that we could win state championships. We lost some heartbreakers in the quarterfinal round on the first day that were really tough to swallow, but we came back strong on the second day," Hayase explained.
Lahainaluna sent seven wrestlers to the finals, including eventual gold medalists Bubba Jaramillo, kid sister Kapu Jaramillo and freshman sensation Lalelei Mata'afa, along with silver medalists Christian Balagso, Wyatt Chism, Hercules Mata'afa and Breeana Dudoit Vasquez.
The other Lahainaluna semifinalists were Diamond Freitas and Precious Jaramillo.
Lahainaluna would eventually finish third in both the boys and girls team standings. The Lady Lunas piled up 141 points in capturing their bronze trophy behind Pearl City and Kamehameha Kapalama, while the boys totaled 134 points for their third place finish after Kamehameha Kapalama and Campbell.
"Our hearts go out to all of the seniors - we are so proud of all of them. They showed outstanding character throughout the season, and we appreciate all they did for the team," Hayase said.
Senior captains Reilly Pasion, Mark Alamon, Giovanni Perez and Gary Long, as well classmates Kahi Tihada and Josh Costen on the boys team, and Mahea Kaaihue Falahee, Kekau Taamu, Malia Refamonte and Precious Jaramillo all competed for the last time for Lahainaluna.
"We will certainly miss all of these seniors, but it is exciting to think of the tradition they have helped establish for Lahainaluna and pathway they have set for the student-athletes that will come back next year. And with the advancement to a higher level of the coaching philosophies of Coach Shane (Cunanan), we will definitely be back in contention in Honolulu," Hayase said.
Coach Todd concluded by sending his heartfelt gratitude to the Lahaina community for its never-ending support for Luna wrestling.
"My gosh, it is such a wonderful feeling to think about the people and organizations that always help us out. Bob Kawaguchi and 'Noosh' Nishihara and all the kind people at Lahaina Hongwanji, the Kaanapali Beach Hotel, the Royal Lahaina Resort, our Athletic Director Scott Soldwisch, the Ah Puck family, and all of the families and alumni that support the team. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts," he said.