No one at Kealakehe is throwing around the word “dynasty” just yet, but a girls Big Island Interscholastic Federation title, a promising boys team and a successful youth program have head coach Mike Ciotti excited about the future.
“The year really belonged to the girls. They all stuck together,” Ciotti said. “Next year we hope the boys will come together like the girls did this year. The core group is so young that there is time for that to happen.”
The girls title is the first for Kealakehe since 2009, and the Waveriders had to knock off four-time defending champion Kamehameha and a tough Hilo squad for the crown.
“You never know each year going into the season what it’s going to be like,” Ciotti said. “The way the tournaments are run in the BIIF, you don’t see the competition each weekend. There’s also the issue that sometimes kids come and go and don’t stick with the sport. It makes it hard to judge sometimes, but what matters is that we came out on top at the end.”
Kealakehe accounts for a BIIF-high 12 of the 80 wrestlers who qualified for the Hawaii High School Athletic Association Wrestling Championships, which begin today and run through Saturday at Neal S. Blaisdell Arena on Oahu.
“States is always the goal,” Ciotti said. “Up there, I expect them to wrestle at 110 percent. I always ask that of them. I don’t want them to worry too much about winning or losing.”
Waiakea, which edged Pahoa for its fourth consecutive BIIF boys team title, and Hawaii Preparatory Academy are each sending nine athletes to the event.
“Once you get all the Big Island team’s together up there it becomes a big, fun group,” Ciotti said. “We sit together and everyone cheers each other on.”
Senior Destiny Masters leads the charge for the Waveriders. Masters hit the weight room in the offseason and moved up weight classes from 113-pounds — a title she handily won as a junior — to the 121-pound division. Masters concluded her BIIF career with another title. She will face Waianae’s Tehani Carson in the preliminary round of the HHSAA tournament.
Masters is one of six girls from Kealakehe’s roster who qualified for the state meet. Five of the six are seniors — Kena Greenbaum (109-lbs), Tracy Galanto (117), Paulaine Gampon (130), and Jade Cadaoas, the 105-pound BIIF champion.
“Destiny has done very well for us, and she has been able to work through a couple of injuries lately,” Ciotti said. “For all of the seniors, this will be their last hurrah, so they will want to go out with their best efforts.”
Ciotti had praise for his boys team as well, especially 106-pound BIIF champion Elison Galanto. Galanto pinned Pahoa’s Raulin Santiago in the second round to secure his title in the BIIF’s lightest boys weight class.
“Elison had to wrestle up in weight classes and really took a beating this year,” Ciotti said. “He battled through the challenges and wrestled tough in the BIIF championships. He always keeps his head up, which is what makes him so good.”
Galanto will battle Maui’s Jon Paul Zane in the preliminaries.
Ciotti attributed the success of the Waveriders to the youth wrestling program Kealakehe started about four years ago. The program is aimed at giving kids a chance to get involved in the sport at a younger age, and many of the members of Kealakehe’s team participated in the program before making the transition to high school.
“As those kind of clubs continue to pop up, we can start to grow wrestling at the youth level so when these kids are freshmen they are not completely new to the sport,” Ciotti said. “The difference can be so great between a freshman wrestler and the upperclassmen. We want to improve on the numbers going forward. It can only help the competition.”
Only Kamehameha and Kealakehe have a youth programs in place, but HPA and Waiakea are expected to start the same kind of programs this summer, according to Ciotti.
While the future is exciting, the Kealakehe squad is firmly in the present with the season’s culminating event facing them.
“Our team really gets along together. We will go up there with a good group and celebrate how well the kids did all season long,” Ciotti said. “Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, but what would make me happy is seeing each kid go up to Oahu and perform the best they can.”