From Kolten Wong reaching the major leagues and playing in the World Series to Leahi Camacho tackling the Kaiwi Channel, there were many great sporting accomplishments on the Big Island in 2013.
Through it all, one program consistently rose above the rest. Without further ado, here’s a look at West Hawaii Today’s top 10 stories of the past calendar year.
1. YEAR OF THE WILDCAT
Konawaena started off its sporting year in style, sweeping Big Island Interscholastic Federation titles in boys and girls basketball and boys and girls soccer.
But for a fitting glimpse into how good 2013 was for the Wildcats, look no further than the night of Nov. 1.
While the girls volleyball team was putting the finishing touches on its first Hawaii High School Athletic Association championship with a four-set victory against BIIF rival Hawaii Prep, Konawaena’s football team was rallying back to beat Ka Makani to secure a threepeat.
Chanelle Molina narrowly missed a state title with the girls basketball team back in February, but the sophomore wasn’t to be denied in volleyball, slamming 28 kills in the final.
“Every day our girls get better and better,” Konawaena coach Ainsley Keawekane told Stephens Media Hawaii. “We left everything on the floor. We could be down in a set, but we fought and fought to the end. Every year, the kids are getting older and more mature. With our girls, we’ve got very mature underclassmen. We work a lot on our ball-handling and mechanics.
“To have two Big Island teams in the finale, that’s awesome. We wanted to show that the Big Island can compete with the OIA and ILH. Those teams have a lot of greatness, but we wanted to show that we can be part of that greatness.”
Football coach Cliff Walters gave credit to the administration, while girls soccer coach Guy Miranda lauded the school’s parents as the key to Konawaena’s success. Whatever the reason, the Wildcats rocked in a variety of endeavours.
Aimee Shiraki won gold at states in judo, while Haley Eckstrom and Rayne Izumi-Baltero teamed up to win a BIIF girls tennis title.
For good measure, the baseball softball teams were league runners-up.
2. KOLTEN WONG REACHES THE SHOW
Wong of Hilo had quite a year in 2013.
He batted .303 with 10 homers and 45 RBIs in 412 at-bats and 107 games at Triple-A Memphis. He was named the best defensive second baseman in the Pacific Coast League.
The St. Louis Cardinals called up Wong in August, and later added him to the World Series roster. Wong became the first Hilo-born major leaguer to play in the World Series.
In 59 at-bats in 32 games with the Cardinals, Wong batted .153 and maintained his rookie status. (Rookies lose that status if they exceed 130 at-bats or 45 days on roster.)
Last month, the Cardinals traded third baseman David Freese to the Los Angeles Angels to clear a spot for Wong. St. Louis signed Mark Ellis, a second baseman with the Los Angeles Dodgers, to a one-year contract.
Wong has made a rapid rise since he was drafted in the first round, the No. 21 pick overall, out of the University of Hawaii in 2011. In less than three full seasons in the minor leagues, Wong, 23, has a combined .301 batting average during stops at Single A, Double A and Triple A.
In six postseason at-bats, against the Pittsburgh Pirates, Los Angeles Dodgers and Boston Red Sox, he had one hit against the eventual World Series champion BoSox.
But the Wong family suffered a tremendous blow with the recent death of Keala Wong, often described as the emotional cushion for husband Kaha Wong, sons Kolten and Kean and daughter Kiani.
As much as the Wong siblings have become known for their hitting under dad Kaha’s tutelage, a bigger part of their profile is their grounded nature, Keala Wong’s handiwork. Not long ago, a Double-A public relations staffer sent an email, commending Kolten for the way he carried himself and treated others.
3. LEAHI CAMACHO SWIMS KAIWI CHANNEL
Camacho, 17, a Kealakehe High senior, swam the 26-mile Kaiwi Channel, from Laau Point, Molokai to Sandy Beach, Oahu in 14 hours and 43 minutes on Aug. 18. She battled 20 mph winds and 6- to 7-foot swells in the rough open ocean swim and fought off a jellyfish sting and fatigue to become the youngest swimmer to accomplish the feat.
Camacho is only the 27th person to swim the grueling roughwater course and she did it in the ninth fastest time.
“It all happened so fast, it still feels like a dream,” Camacho told West Hawaii Today. “I was so overwhelmed by the amount of people waiting on the shore supporting me. It took away a lot of my fatigue.”
Camacho and her crew had to travel nearly 6 miles by boat to reach the point where she would start her quest at Laau Point on Molokai. It was especially difficult for her while waiting in the dark before the start.
“I was scared, quite obviously,” she said. “Being with my dad was a comforting moment. I wasn’t trying to think about about it because I didn’t want to overthink. We hugged it out and he took my mind off everything.”
To make the swim official, Camacho had to start from land, which was an endeavor in its own right.
“There are not many sandy spots at Laau Point,” said Camacho’s coach, Steve Borowski. “Since the swim had to start on shore, she covered her hands and feet and climbed onto the rocky shore and made her way to a small spot where she could find room to stand.”
4. DIVISION I FOOTBALL SHAKEUP
Hilo ascended to the BIIF title, while Kealakehe — for the first time in a while — looked mortal.
Dave Baldwin coached the Vikings to their first BIIF championship since 2003. He took over a winless team (0-10) in 2011 and finished with a 5-3 record last year, losing to Kealakehe for the league title.
Hilo beat Kealakehe 21-10 for the BIIF Division I championship, and finished with a 10-2 overall record, losing to Konawaena in the preseason and to Campbell.
5. POP WARNER TEAMS TO SUPER BOWL
The Leeward Steelers and Panaewa Alii each advanced to ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Kissimmee, Fla.
The Steelers Mitey-Mite team convincingly won both of its games in December — 14-0 against the Wilmington Wildcats from Massachusetts and 20-0 against the Liberty Lake Lions from Washington.
The Alii had to scramble to raise funds after $100,000 or more in league travel funds disappeared. The community stepped up and the Alii made it to Florida, where they lost to Greensboro, N.C. 25-6 and to the Southside (N.Y.) Cyclones 33-32 in the Midget Division.
6. ALL-BIIF GIRLS BASKETBALL FINAL
The Kamehameha Warriors beat Honokaa 55-46 in February to capture their second straight Hawaii High School Athletic Association Division II state championship. Kamehameha also won state titles in 2005 and ’07, and finished runner-up in 2006, ’09, and ’11.
The Dragons topped the Warriors 42-35 on Dec. 17 at Honokaa Armory. Chancis Fernandez, who sat out last year under the league’s transfer rules, scored 15 points. Honokaa’s defense held Kamehameha’s ace scorer Casey Poe to 13 points.
7. INDIVIDUAL STATE GLORY
Konawaena girls volleyball and Kamehameha girls basketball were the island’s only team winners at states, but as usual plenty of athletes in individual sports joined Shiraki and struck gold.
HPA’s Zoe Sims (1,500 meters) and Emma Taylor (100 hurdles) took first in track and field; HPA’s Anu Nihipali and Kealakehe’s Cara Jernigan were golden in the pool; Kamehameha’s Welina Tong wrestled her way to a title; Waiakea Justin Gray nabbed an air riflery title; and Hilo’s Lia Nakamura won in judo.
8. JAYLA MEDEIROS WINS PPK TITLE
One just wasn’t enough for the Kealakekua youngster, who traveled to the Atlanta Georgia Dome to win her second NFL Punt Pass & Kick National championship.
Then a 9-year-old, Medeiros won the girls 8-9 age group with a total score of 214 feet, 5 inches, modeling her game after 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
“I always see him snap his wrists so he could get a good spiral,” Medeiros told West Hawaii Today.
9. KEAN WONG DRAFTED
The 2013 Waiakea graduate was drafted in the fourth round by the Tampa Bay Rays in June. That made Kolten and Kean the first pair of brothers on the Big Island to be drafted. Like his brother, Kean was named the Big Island Interscholastic Federation Player of the Year as a senior.
Kean Wong, a second baseman, was assigned to the Gulf Coast rookie league and batted .328 in 177 at-bats, and posted a .979 fielding percentage with just four errors in 191 attempts.
10. MELLOW IS GOOD
Big Island crews don’t always represent at the Queen Liliuokalani Race, but Kailua-Kona’s Mellow Johnny’s 1 did just that on Aug. 31 by winning the men’s event.
“It’s been years since a traditional Hawaiian koa canoe beat out contemporary canoes that rely on modern technology and lighter weight materials,” Kai Opua president Bo Campos said. “What a tremendous acknowledgement of the power of our Hawaiian culture.”