The No. 1 seeds lived up to their billing, sweeping the titles at the Big Island Interscholastic Federation Championships at Holua Resort Saturday afternoon.
Despite the lack of bracket-busters over the weekend, there was no absence of exciting action on the tournament’s closing day.
Four BIIF titles were distributed Saturday, and the league’s top eight boys singles and doubles, and top seven girls singles and doubles earned spots in the state tournament at Wailea Tennis Club and Makena Tennis Club on Maui, slated May 1 to 3.
J.J. Minakata has been touted as the BIIF’s best all season, and rightly so. The Hawaii Preparatory Academy junior steamrolled through league play and entered the championships as the No. 1 seed and heavy favorite to take home the crown.
Minakata made it official Saturday, taking home the BIIF boys singles title — HPA’s first since 2003 — by beating Waiakea’s Samuel Matsuura.
“It feels great to finally be a BIIF champion,” Minakata said. “When you play tournaments during the year, you always have a next round, but finally it is the end.”
Masuura settled for runner-up honors, but the Waiakea senior battled valiantly against Minakata, living up to his school’s Warrior mascot.
After a close first set, Matsuura fell behind 0-5 in the second, and pulled up a few times while chasing down balls because of a calf injury. Masuura battled through the pain, determined to put on a good show in his final BIIF performance.
The persistence paid off, as bounces started to favor Matsuura, and he managed to wrestle away valuable points from Minakata to stay alive. With each small victory, his Waiakea teammates and supporters grew louder.
“The adrenaline was crazy,” said Matsuura. “My family and friends put so much into this. I did not want to lose, so I kept digging deep and finding more energy.”
On one of many match points, Minakata went in for the kill on a ball primed for an easy overhand smash winner. Matsuura managed to deflect the shot high up into the air, but the ball looked destined to land out of bounds. Minakata dropped his racket and raised his arms, sensing victory. However, he would have to wait a few more points. The ball landed in bounds. Matsuura turned to the fence, rallying his raucous fans with a mighty yell.
“This is my senior year,” Matsuura said. “I wanted to leave everything out there on the court.”
Minakata put the game away a few points later, but left the court with great respect for his opponent.
“Samuel played great and had the crowd behind him,” Minakata said. “This season I worked mostly on my mental toughness. I needed it there at the end.”
The Konawaena duo of Anakele Apisaloma and Finn Gallagher fought off a comeback attempt by the HPA team of Alec Jones and Brendan Moynahan, winning in a third set tiebreaker.
“It feels like 1,000 pounds lifted off my shoulders,” Gallagher said. “It feels fantastic. I’m a senior and have been working at this for my entire high school career.”
Apisaloma and Gallagher dominated the first set of the championship match, but opened the door for HPA after a lackluster second set.
During the break entering the final set, Konawaena coach Richard Kahalioumi took his pupils away from the court and the crowd for a motivational speech.
“I gave them a firm talking to and tried to get them to believe in themselves again,” Kahalioumi said. “I knew if they were able to do that, they could win.”
The Wildcat pair did just that in the tiebreaker, leaving no doubt they were worthy of being BIIF champions.
“Sometimes their emotions can be like a runaway train, but they got back on the track, kept the points rolling in and put it away,” Kahalioumi said.
“We looked at the third set as fresh start,” Gallagher said. “We knew we just had to do what we did in the first set.”
Kealakehe freshman Michelle Uyeda had not dropped a set all season entering the championship match against Waiakea’s Karyl-lin Yamakawa. The No. 1 seeded Waverider prodigy continued her streak of dominance in the title matchup, knocking off Yamakawa 6-0, 6-0.
“Michelle has shown me she can handle the pressure under any circumstance,” Kealakehe coach Chris Makaiwi said. “To be a freshman in a championship match and double-bagel her opponent is an incredible feat.”
Uyeda has nearly her entire high school career ahead of her, but already has state title aspirations. Makaiwi expects Uyeda to garner a seeded spot in the state championships.
“How she can compose herself in a match is rare,” said Makaiwi. “You don’t usually see that in young players.”
The Soares sisters, Kelly and Emily, each had a taste of BIIF individual gold during their BIIF careers, but never as a team.
At the start of the season, the sisters and the Hilo coaching staff decided to change that, and entered the talented duo as a doubles team. The decision meant forfeiting the chance of Emily repeating as the girls singles champion.
“It was a decision everyone made together and something we had thought about from last year,” Hilo coach Wayne Yamada said. “Things had to fall into place to make it happen. After talking with the family we made the decision and figured, this is what we have, so let’s run with it and see how well we can do in the BIIF and possibly state tournament.
“Kealakehe has a great program, and we knew if we could beat the competition here, it would prepare us well for the state tournament.”
The gamble paid off, as the Viking sisters overcame an early struggle to down the Kealakehe team of Mai Kobayashi and April Wong in a three set finale.
“It’s a great feeling for both of us, and it has been a blessing to play with my sister my senior year and go out like this,” Kelly Soares said.
Kobayashi and Wong gained the first set edge by taking advantage of uncharacteristic unforced errors by the Soares siblings.
“When it comes to championship games, nerves come into play. I think they were really nervous when they got out there,” Yamada said. “The next two sets were a lot cleaner and they played through it.”
The sisters relied on each other to get through the stunning first-set defeat.
“We told each other one point at a time, and one ball at a time,” Kelly said. “We could not be overconfident out there.”
Full results from Saturday’s matches were not submitted as of press time.