HHSAA swimming and diving championships preview: Kealakehe’s Cara Jernigan faces tough test


Kealakehe senior Cara Jernigan already has broken two breaststroke records this season.

Waveriders coach Steve Borowski says she might need a third to defend her Hawaii High School Athletic Association title.

Jernigan’s best time during the Big Island Interscholastic Federation season — 1 minute, 5.65 seconds — earned her a league record Jan. 18 at Kamehameha. However, she’s seeded fourth in her signature event heading into today’s HHSAA trials at Naeole Pool in Keaau. The finals are Saturday.

Borowski sees a strong field in the breaststroke, including Punahou freshman Maddie Balish, who has the best time in a high school meet this season at 1:03.62.

“It may take a record to win it,” Borowski said.

Brittany Beauchan of Punahou set the championship mark (1:04.04) in 2007.

Of course, Jernigan could have an ace up her sleeve. Swimming at Kona Community Aquatic Center in December, she rewrote the Hawaii age-group meet record books with a personal-best 1:03.08.

As was the case at the age-group meet, Borowski’s swimmers are tapering for states.

“Hopefully, we’re tapering well and are prepared,” he said. “Cara has looked good in practice and has the ability to come from behind.”

Jernigan is also seeded fourth in the 200 individual medley, but Borowski said the breaststroke is the race to watch.

He likes the field so much, he thinks it’s the only event Punahou senior Jasmine Mau wouldn’t be capable of winning if she entered. However, swimmers are limited to two individual finals, and Mau, the most decorated high school swimmer in Hawaii, is expected to win the 200 freestyle and the butterfly before she leaves for a scholarship at the University of California.

The last time states was held on the Big Island, at Kamehameha in 2010, the BIIF delivered in a big way. The Kealakehe girls won the school’s first state crown, and island competitors combined for five individual golds and two first-place finishes in relays.

The BIIF could be hard-pressed to hit such a bonanza this time around. Jernigan is the sole returning champion, and Hilo’s Ryan Bisel and Jordan Kamimura and Waiakea’s Drew Holloway are the only island swimmers ranked in the top three in an event.

“I think (the island) lost some of its higher-ranked swimmers,” Hilo coach Jon Hayashida said. “At the same time, there could be some surprises with swimmers not as well-known. A lot of seniors, and they tend to finish strong.”

Like Jernigan, Bisel also won two individual golds and was part of a relay victory Feb. 1 at BIIFs. In the 200 IM at states, Bisel is matched up against Baldwin senior Jonah Hu, who holds an almost four-second advantage on the rest of the field.

Hu is also favored to win the breaststroke — his best time (55.92) is 3 seconds ahead of Kamimura’s — and Hayashida said he wouldn’t be surprised if Hu broke another record. Bisel and Waiakea’s Ren Kuwaye-Tamanaha will also swim in the breaststroke.