On paper, Hilo’s girls wrestling team hardly resembled a powerhouse at the beginning of the season.
Five of the Vikings’ team members hadn’t wrestled before. Two were sophomores. Even Hilo coach Alex Kalawe admitted he didn’t have the highest of expectations.
But as the season went on, Kalawe discovered valuable character traits that went beyond the basic information on a roster: athleticism, intelligence and a strong work ethic. All of a sudden, Kalawe saw a team capable of winning the Big Island Interscholastic Federation wrestling championships Saturday at Kealakehe, and the Vikings didn’t disappoint.
Shaylyn Arakaki, Nina Bean, Kaitlyn Funai and Kaylan Kanakanui won individual titles, and Hilo racked up 108 points to win the team championship.
Kamehameha-Hawaii, which had won the previous three team crowns, was second with 72.5 points. Hawaii Prep placed third (71), Konawaena finished fourth (68) and Honokaa was fifth (59).
“We were not necessarily expecting to win, but we expected to be there,” Kalawe said.
Kalawe’s team more than made up for a lack of wrestling experience.
Arakaki, a junior who used a half-nelson to pin Keaau’s Aileen Umayas and win the 97-pound title, hadn’t wrestled before, and yet she hasn’t lost all season. Both she and Funai, a sophomore who pinned Kamehameha’s Crystal Baysa with a crotch lift in the 109-pound final, have 17-0 records.
“I wanted to try something new,” Arakaki said.
That’s the same mindset she had last year, when she took up judo for the first time, and she promptly won the 98-pound crown.
“She’s smart, she’s athletic, and she’s a very hard worker,” Kalawe said of Arakaki.
Funai and Bean, a sophomore who pinned Pahoa’s Maile Tadeo to win at 101 pounds, carried a cross-country background into their first wrestling seasons.
Because Arakaki, Funai and Bean all compete in lower weight classes, they often practice against each other, which in turn makes them better wrestlers, Funai said.
“Working together and knowing weaknesses and strengths helps get us better,” Funai said.
Junior Seysha Bandaug, who lost to Kealakehe’s Destiny Masters by fall at 113 pounds, is also in her first year. So is freshman Paki Holika, who saw her tournament come to an abrupt end when she injured her shoulder in her first match on Saturday.
Having wrestled for three years, Kanakanui, a junior who pinned Konawaena’s Sara Totten to win the 140-pound crown, is the team’s veteran.
“They’re kids who come to practice to be good at wrestling,” Kalawe said. “They’re not just there to be there.”
The same can be said of Kamehameha, which claimed two individual crowns.
Welina Tong repeated her title at 175 pounds, beating Honokaa’s Raeoirasortani Espejo 21-4.
“It’s good,” Tong said of being a two-time champ. “Not only did I meet last year’s standard, I feel like I improved a lot.”
Tong’s teammate, Nellie Towata, pinned Pahoa’s Sarina Correa to win the 105-pound title.
Konawaena was the only other team with multiple champions.
Tanalei Louis led the way with her fourth BIIF crown, pinning Ashlee Lopez with a half-nelson at 130 pounds and taking Most Outstanding Wrestler honors.
After her match, the senior said she performed at a level good enough to compete at the Hawaii High School Athletic Association state meet, which takes place March 1-2 at Oahu’s Neal Blaisdell Center.
Louis has wrestled at 125 pounds in each of the previous three state tournaments, sandwiching a second-place finish in between two thirds.
“It’s my last go, so I’m going all out — nothing to lose,” she said.
Teammate Aimee Shiraki pinned Ka’u’s Shavon Mello-Waiwaiole for her second straight 220-pound crown. Also, the Wildcats’ Ruby Suarez pinned Kealakehe’s Tracy Galanto to win at 117.