Kato, Ikioka place third; Punahou sweeps team titles

WAILEA – For Sarah Ikioka and Kylee Kato, improving on last year’s fourth-place finish in the state tennis tournament was a goal from the beginning of the season.

The Kamehameha Schools Maui tandem did just that Saturday.

The third-seeded girls doubles team outlasted No. 4 Emily and Kelly Soares of Hilo 6-7 (4), 6-3, 6-4 to capture third place at the Carlsmith Ball State Championships at the Wailea Tennis Club.

“It feels really, really, really good,” Kato said. “We just picked each other up during the match for the win.”

After fighting back from a 5-1 deficit in the first set to force a tiebreaker, Ikioka and Kato duo got off to a quick 4-0 start in the second set on the way to leveling the match. The sophomore duo finished strong, winning four of the last five games – Ikioka closed out the match with a service winner.

“We had the determination to win at least third this year,” Ikioka said.

Ikioka and Kato were the only MIL players left on the final day of the tournament.

“It feels so good to be representing Maui,” Ikioka said.

Kamehameha assistant coach Nalani Cagasan believes last year’s experience helped Ikioka and Kato go one step further this year.

“You have to lose,” Cagasan said. “You can’t win all the time. You don’t know who you are when you win all the time. I think they were in that exact same position last year and didn’t want that result again. I think they wanted it more. I think they relaxed more and I think they grew up a lot.”

Ikioka and Kato agreed.

“We really needed to work as a team,” Kato said.

“Last year we were kind of doing our own thing,” Ikioka added.

“We were both playing like singles players,” they said in unison.

Ikioka and Kato each went undefeated in singles play during the MIL season, then in April paired up for the first time since the state tournament last year and captured a second league doubles crown.

“I think we worked more together as a team this year,” Kato said.

“We became better friends throughout the season,” Ikioka added.

In the girls singles final, fourth-seeded Taylor Lau of St. Francis won 6-1, 6-3 over No. 1 seed Alyssa Tobita of Mililani, who was seeking her fourth state title.

“It feels pretty good. I’ve been dreaming about this since I was, like, in 7th grade,” Lau said.

“Five weeks ago I broke my finger, my pinkie finger, so I lost in the (Interscholastic League of Honolulu) finals to Ashley Ishimura because I wasn’t too prepared, and I think what really made the difference today was the preparation because I had that injury. I had to make a calendar and make X’s on all the days that were left until the state tournament and I trained really hard and this is how it pays off.”

In girls doubles, second-seeded Skyla Alcon and Cori Cummings of Mid-Pacific downed top-seeded Sari Kwee and Kara Okazaki of Iolani 6-7 (6), 7-5, 6-0. Okazaki had won last year’s doubles championship with Kristen Poei.

Punahou captured the girls team title with 12 points. Mililani and Mid-Pacific tied for second with nine each. Kamehameha Maui came in sixth with five points.

Punahou swept the boys finals en route to a 24th straight team crown – No. 1 seed Kawika Lam earned his second consecutive state singles title, rallying for a 6-7 (6), 6-0, 6-2 win over No. 2 Jeffrey Liang of Hawaii Baptist, and top-seeded Zander Kim and Jon Costales beat Mid-Pacific’s Seann Esaki and Braxton Chong, seeded seventh, 6-1, 6-0.

“It’s relieving because I’ve been thinking about it for a long time and the pressure was on me so I just had to come out and perform,” Lam said. “I took every match one at a time because I had a pretty tough draw. Every match was a tough opponent.”

The Buffanblu finished with 28 team points. Mililani came in second with nine.