Balagso gets down and dirty
LAHAINA – Christian Balagso is not afraid of hard work.
The Lahainaluna High School junior is the top seed in the 120-pound weight class for the Chevron Hawaii State Wrestling Championships, one of a record six Lunas on the top rung of a bracket for the event that runs Friday and Saturday at the Neal Blaisdell Arena on Oahu.
Balagso’s life growing up on the Cabanilla ‘ohana pig farm in Olowalu Valley – LB Farm – has ingrained a solid work ethic in him.
“My mom guys taught me that the work comes first,” Balagso said at practice on Tuesday. “You have got to get the job done and you work harder to get what you want.”
Balagso works on the farm during wrestling season, which has grown to two-a-day practices in the last couple weeks as Lahainaluna seeks the first state wrestling team title for a Neighbor Island team.
Depending on the breeding schedule, he can be taking care of more than 100 pigs, which require more than 200 gallons of cooked food-waste per day. The breeding boars are more than 500 pounds each and pigs are sold when they reach 230 pounds. The farm also includes goats, ducks and chickens.
“By the time I get home, if my brothers didn’t finish yet, I will go down there and finish up,” Balagso said. “Feeding pigs, cooking the slop for the next day, or washing some barrels so we can pick up more slop. Weekends, though, when I’m not in sports and my brothers are busy, I’ll take care of the farm on my own.”
Lunas coach Todd Hayase said, “He definitely has the work ethic, he definitely has the commitment and the passion and all that.”
With 13 qualifiers in 14 weight classes – 10 of whom are Maui Interscholastic League champions – the Lahainaluna boys have their eyes on a state title. Balagso and Bubba Jaramillo (145 pounds) are No. 1 seeds.
It is the Lunas’ girls who may have a better team-title shot with five MIL champions and 10 total qualifiers. Four Lahainaluna girls – Diamond Freitas at 109, Breanna Dudoit-Vasquez at 135, Carly Jaramillo at 140, and Lalelei Mataafa at 220 – are seeded No. 1.
Both Jaramillos and Mataafa are defending state champions.
“I can’t recall having four girls (No. 1 seeds),” Hayase said. “It says a lot about this girls team. They have definitely earned that seeding.”
Balagso is part of the Cabanilla family legacy for Lunas’ wrestling. He is first cousins with three-time state champion Travis Okano, 2010 state champion Holden Mowat and former state qualifier Lono Cabanilla. Current Lahainaluna junior and MIL champion Connor Mowat is seeded second at heavyweight.
“I’m sure it helps them, but they are all individuals,” Hayase said. “I just think they have that special gene that just makes them work hard.”
All are children of Lawrence Cabanilla’s daughters.
“It pushes me to see what Holden, Travis and Lono have all done, all their accomplishments,” Balagso said. “I want to at least tie them or break their records.”
Connor Mowat, the reigning MIL Defensive Football Player of the Year, said his smaller cousin is as tough as they come.
“He’s an animal – when we were young we would always just grab sticks, fight each other, wrestle around with each other,” Mowat said. “I think people should be wary of him up at states.”
Mowat said that the family legacy has not been lost on himself and Balgaso.
“We know we have to push ourselves, so we keep driving,” he said.
Balagso added, “We both want to get our names up there in the middle of the board” – Lahainaluna’s all-time list of state champions.
The half-dozen combined No. 1 seeds, a record for an MIL school, shows just how far the Lunas have come as a program. Kamehameha Kapalama is next with four No. 1 seeds, and no other school in the tournaments has more than two.
“It gives us more confidence, it makes us know that we deserve that seed, we deserve that top spot,” Balagso said. “The pressure is on, too. You’re expected to be the best.”
All 13 Lahainaluna boys qualifiers are from the Maui Style youth program, eight from the Lahaina Roughnecks and five from the Napili Surfriders.
“Most definitely, this is the team,” Balagso said. “We have enough guys, we have the quality and the potential to win the state title as a team and make history.”
* Robert Collias is at email@example.com