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Onaka first to rein in four state All-Around Cowgirl titles

June 14, 2017 - 12:05am

For a cowgirl or any girl … better yet, any person, Hailey Onaka has things figured out.

Onaka owns 12 all-around saddles – in rodeo, that’s the big prize – she graduated from Makua Lani last month with a 4.0 grade point average, she has scholarships to compete and study at her dream school, Cal Poly, in picturesque San Luis Obispo, Calif., and she already has her career profession picked out. She wants to be a lawyer.

If life sounds like a day at the beach for Onaka, that was certainly the case Tuesday as she relaxed at Kua Bay, soaking in not only the sun and the surf but also a weekend in which she became the first four-time winner at the Hawaii High School Rodeo Association finals.

“I’m just thrilled. It was quite the journey,” Onaka said in a phone interview as wind whipped in the background. “I’m just excited to be where I am and to have had the opportunity.”

Her fourth state All-Around Cowgirl honor – that came on the heels of her sixth consecutive district title, which is also a first – came with its challenges.

The state competition at Parker Ranch in Waimea carries a wait-and-see dynamic and thus a fair amount of tension. After finishing their events Saturday, competitors don’t find out the results until Sunday.

“Well, I knew it was really close, and I didn’t exactly have the weekend I had hoped for,” she said. “The competition was tough, but it was kind of hit and miss for everybody.”

In the end, Onaka said of the results: “It wasn’t actually as close as I thought.

“I told myself, ‘Wow. You actually pulled this off.’ ”

She advanced in five of the seven competitions, claimed titles in reined cow horse and breakaway roping and became a National High School Rodeo Association merit scholarship recipient.

As usual, the host island more than held its own.

Fellow Makua Lani graduate Pua Kauhaihao, Onaka’s best friend, claimed reserve All-Around Cowgirl, winning goat tying and girls cutting, and Konawaena junior-to-be Kaohu Haalilio captured tie down roping en route to taking reserve All-Around Cowboy.

“Pua is such a competitor,” Onaka said. “She needs to be acknowledged for being so strong mentally and physically.

“She has made me the competitor that I am today. It was bittersweet that it’s coming to an end.”

Rookie honors went to Konawaena’s Kilihea Mockchew and Waiakea’s Trisyn Kalawaia. Kalawaia finished first in bull riding, and the other Big Island event winners were Ikena Nakoa (barrel racing), Hilo High’s Jonah Menino and Honokaa’s Levi Higa in team roping and Stanley Joseph, a student at Hawaii Technology Academy in Hilo, who won boys cutting and combined with Molokai’s Jayden Dudoit-Tabilangan to take double mugging.

Alex Winters, Jonah Menino, Cassidy Serion, Nakoa, Haalilio, Joseph and Kauhaihao will carry the banner for the Big Island at the NHSRA finals in July in Gillette, Wyoming.

Onaka will skip the event this time around as her brothers compete on the mainland.

As she basked Tuesday, her brother Chase was faring well in team roping with Cal Poly at the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association in Wyoming, and next week in Tennessee her younger brother, Kale, will compete at the National Junior High Finals Rodeo.

“I started rodeo in kindergarten, so I’ve played this game for a while,” she said. “Rodeo will start up in September at (Cal Poly), so I need to find balance.

“My brother is there, so I’m familiar with the program, and athletically they have everything I need to succeed. Academically, it’s definitely my first pick.”

Enjoying a day at the beach, Onaka sounded like she had few complaints.

Well, maybe one.

“You wouldn’t believe how many people go to Kua Bay on a Tuesday,” she said.

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