KEAAU — Candace Castillo can cheer with the best in the Big Island Interscholastic Federation.
She was a member of the Keaau cheerleading team that won the league title in 2012 and ’13.
That was her background in sports, until the junior tried out for the judo team, which hosted a dual meet Saturday at the Cougars Gym.
“I lost to Hilo but I feel like I put up a good fight,” said Castillo, who competes in the 103-pound weight class. “It’s my first year and I’m having a lot of fun.”
Castillo is part of a deep Keaau roster, which includes 14 girls. There are also 14 boys.
However, coach Miki Iaukea-Lum pointed out that her Cougars don’t carry much experience.
For the girls, four juniors have experience: Aileen Umayas (98 pounds), Maelin Pokakaa (115), Ellienne Alonzo (129) and Cherish Harris (139).
Last year at the BIIF championships, Harris finished second in the 154-pound weight class.
“They listen well and they’re very positive,” Iaukea-Lum said. “I try to emphasize more discipline than you gotta win kind of thing. That applies to their lives. If they can get that discipline, that would make me happy.”
Not that Iaukea-Lum is a partisan Cougars cheerleader, but she likes the spirit of her two smallest judoka: Umayas and Castillo.
“Candace is not afraid to try and she’s doing fine,” Iaukea-Lum said. “She goes up against experienced players and holds her own. Aileen has a big heart. She’s always the smallest in her weight class, but has the biggest heart.”
The Keaau boys with the most experience are serious BIIF title contenders: Haaheo Chan, second at 198 last year, and Zephaniah Pavao, the defending heavyweight.
The seniors were BIIF champion wrestlers as well, Chan at 195 pounds and Pavao at 285. Chan was second at the Hawaii High School Athletic Association state tournament while Pavao took fifth.
“Haaheo is way more focused on his technique and developing his style,” Iaukea-Lum said. “As far as his competition, he goes in knowing what he wants to work on.
“Zephaniah is doing OK. He doesn’t stop. He’s constantly attacking and moving. In the bigger weight class, a lot of conditioning comes into play.”
Umayas, who’s in her second year of judo, qualified for states last season and lost two matches. But in dual competition, the smallest Cougar had a prosperous day.
“I pinned my Hilo opponent. My season has been pretty good,” she said. “It’s been a great experience. The best part for me is getting out there on the mat, and having that feeling of adrenaline, going against someone and doing my best.”
Umayas will have tough competition in her 98-pound weight class at the BIIF individual championships April 26.
That title belongs to two-time defending BIIF champion Shaylin Arakaki. The Hilo senior also closed her BIIF wrestling career with two league crowns and undefeated seasons.