Repeats -and- streaks
For many in the Maui County sports scene, 2017 ended much the same as 2016.
From Lahainaluna High School’s dominance in football, girls basketball and wrestling to the Valley Isle’s baseball success, this year was filled with repeat championships and streaks kept intact.
One of the most notable repeats came on Nov. 18, when the Lunas football team successfully defended its first-ever state championship by outlasting Konawaena 75-69 in a seven-overtime classic at Aloha Stadium on Oahu. The game, which lasted 4 hours and 17 minutes, was the highest-scoring game in state tournament history. Lahainaluna was led by Joshua Tihada, whose fifth and final touchdown run clinched the win.
The Lunas also boast the most enduring streak in the Maui Interscholastic League ranks. The girls basketball team won its 13th straight league title in January, ending the season with 134 consecutive MIL victories. Lahainaluna went on to make its fourth straight Division I state semifinal, having reached at least that stage for the seventh time in the past eight years. So far this winter, the Lunas again appear to be a state title contender and have extended their unprecedented MIL run to 142.
Lahainaluna’s winning ways continued on the wrestling mat as well, with the Lunas claiming their eighth straight MIL girls team championship en route to their second state team title — the previous one came in 2015, when the Lahainaluna boys also won.
The Lunas weren’t the only Valley Isle team making noise at the state level.
The Maui High baseball team, which had been one loss away from not even qualifying for the D-I state tournament, made a magical run to its first state championship in 35 years. The Sabers won four games in four days at the University of Hawaii’s Les Murakami Stadium, defeating Waiakea 6-1 in the all-Neighbor Island final on April 29 to give Maui High its second state title. The championship was the second straight for the MIL — Baldwin won it all in 2016. The league hadn’t done that since Molokai won in 1999 and 2000.
Behind a three-win performance by Ava Shipman, the Seabury Hall girls took the team title at the state track and field championships on May 13 in Keaau. Shipman closed out her high school career with victories in the 800, 1,500 and 3,000 meters to lead the Spartans to their second team championship in four years.
Seabury’s distance runners continued to prove their dominance in the fall as Victoria Winham won her second straight individual cross country state title and the Spartans became back-to-back overall team champions. Seabury, forced to compete in Division II despite its intention to run in D-I, placed three runners in the top five — Winham, Darby Mulligan (fourth) and Kallalei Ryden (fifth).
Perhaps the longest streak in Maui County kept right on going this summer, as Hawaiian Canoe Club won its 33rd consecutive Maui County Hawaiian Canoe Association championship. Hawaiian then went on to claim its fifth straight large-club state title and 15th in the last 19 years, winning nine races and defeating Oahu’s Lanikai by 14 points at Hanakao’o (Canoe) Beach Park in Lahaina. Wailea won the small-club division.
Maui’s paddling prowess was also on display at the state high school regatta at Keehi Lagoon in early February. Seabury, coached by HCC keiki coach Paul Luuwai, repeated as state champion in the mixed race, also won the girls title and finished second in the boys division. Of the nine top-three teams, five were from the MIL.
Honolulu’s Yuko Nakai started the year with a win in the Maui Oceanfront Marathon on Jan. 15, taking the female division for the second time in three years. Nine months later, she returned to the Valley Isle to claim her third straight Maui Marathon crown.
Over the summer, a pair of Little League teams from Maui made return trips to their respective World Series. The Central East Maui Seniors and Intermediates played their way all the way to the U.S. title games, where they each lost. The Intermediates were playing as defending world champions.
Among other streaks:
• MIL championships by Lahainaluna boys basketball (third straight), Baldwin boys track and field (12th straight), baseball (eighth straight), girls (ninth straight) and boys (sixth straight) swimming, girls soccer (third straight) and cheerleading (second straight); Kamehameha Maui boys air riflery (third straight), Seabury boys basketball (eighth straight) and boys tennis (third straight), Molokai baseball (fifth straight) and boys volleyball (second straight); and King Kekaulike boys surfing (second straight).
• Justin Arcano won his third straight MIL boys golf title before graduating from Baldwin and heading to UH.
• Father and daughter Brad and Lehiwa Apo repeated as All-Around Cowboy and Cowgirl, respectively, at the Makawao Rodeo.
• Maui-based Team Bradley won the Na Wahine O Ke Kai canoe paddling race for the second straight year, and for the 10th time since 2005.
• Windsurfer Tamara Bockius won her sixth straight women’s title, and seventh in eight years, at the Maui Race Series Neil Pryde Hawaii State Championship.
• Flora Duffy of Bermuda won the women’s division of the Xterra World Championship off-road triathlon for the fourth consecutive year.
• Australia’s Karla Gilbert and Jackson Maynard each won their third straight Maui Jim Ocean Shootout titles.
• Tattersalls Masters Australia picked up its 11th consecutive victory in the Maui Channel Swim.
ZUK AND HERC
This year was a resurgent one for Baldwin graduate Kurt Suzuki. In his 11th major league season — and first with the Atlanta Braves — Suzuki set career highs in home runs (19) and on-base percentage (.351) while playing in a platoon system with Tyler Flowers at catcher. Suzuki agreed to a one-year contract extension during the season and finished with 50 RBIs and a .283 batting average, his best since his All-Star season with the Minnesota Twins in 2014.
Also putting up big numbers was Washington State defensive lineman Hercules Mataafa. The Lahainaluna graduate had one of the best seasons ever for a college football player from the Valley Isle, piling up 22 1/2 tackles for loss and 10 1/2 sacks for the Cougars. He was a consensus All-American and the Polynesian Football Hall of Fame College Player of the Year, firsts for a Maui player.
Mataafa, a redshirt junior, will get his shot at the NFL sooner or later. Already there are three players from Maui — defensive lineman Mitchell Loewen, defensive tackle Pasoni Tasini and linebacker John Lotulelei. Loewen, a Lahainaluna grad who played at Arkansas, made the New Orleans Saints’ 53-man roster but saw his season come to an end after suffering a high ankle sprain against the New England Patriots on Sept. 17. He played in both of the Saints’ games but did not record a tackle. Baldwin grad Tasini was signed to the Arizona Cardinals’ practice squad, while fellow former Bear Lotulelei was placed on the waived/injured list by the Dallas Cowboys with a forearm injury during the preseason.
Maui’s pro surfers also had a good year, particularly in the 45-foot-plus conditions at the World Surf League Big Wave Tour’s Peahi Challenge in October. Paige Alms of Haiku defended her women’s title while Kuau’s Ian Walsh made it a Maui sweep with his win in the men’s competition. Kuau’s Billy Kemper, who won the first two editions of the event, was runner-up, and Spreckelsville’s Kai Lenny posted a fourth-place finish to go with his win at the BWT Puerto Escondido Challenge in July. In addition, Summer Macedo won the Los Cabos Open, the Lahaina surfer’s second WSL junior tour event title in two years, and Wailuku’s Cody Young won the junior men’s division at the U.S. Open of Surfing.
It was more of a mixed bag for Maui’s mixed martial arts fighters. In his only fight of the year, Wailuku middleweight Kendall Grove lost to John Salter by submission on a Bellator MMA card on July 14. Meanwhile, Kahului strawweight Cortney Casey won by unanimous decision against Jessica Aguilar at UFC 211 in Dallas on May 13, only to have the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation suspend her for three months after a sample by Casey showed a testosterone-to-epitestosterone ratio ruled to be elevated. The TDLR did so without testing Casey’s “B” sample, which came back negative for banned substances. Casey received support from the UFC and after months of heavy criticism for the TDLR, the body lifted the suspension and reinstated her win. Casey went on to fight at UFC 218 in Detroit, losing by split decision to Felice Herrig.
WORLD’S BEST ON MAUI
No one knew it at the time, but when Justin Thomas won the SBS Tournament of Champions in early January at the Kapalua Plantation Course, it would serve as a harbinger of things to come. The 23-year-old from Louisville, Ky., who before Kapalua had never won a PGA Tour event on American soil, went on to win the Sony Open the following week on Oahu — during which he became the youngest player to shoot 59 in a tour round — and three more times in 2017, including the PGA Championship at Quail Hollow. He won the FedEx Cup, earned the PGA Player of the Year award and was a member of the victorious American team in the Presidents Cup.
The Tournament of Champions later got a new sponsor, Wisconsin-based Sentry Insurance. In August, the company signed a five-year agreement to be the title sponsor of the Kapalua event.
In February, the Royal Lahaina Tennis Ranch hosted a Fed Cup quarterfinal between the United States and Germany. The two-day event got off to a rough start — a Nazi-era version of the German national anthem was mistakenly played, prompting an apology from the United States Tennis Association — and ended with the Americans advancing with a 3-0 victory. The U.S. went on to win its first Fed Cup title since 2000 when it defeated Belarus in the November final.
It may not have been the strongest field, but this year’s Maui Jim Maui Invitational ended with a thrilling final day. Notre Dame, then ranked 13th in the nation, rallied from a 16-point deficit to knock off No. 6 Wichita State 67-66 in the championship game of the Thanksgiving week men’s college basketball tournament at the Lahaina Civic Center. Earlier in the day, host Chaminade pulled off a rare feat. The Silverswords earned their eighth Maui win in their 100th game in the tournament, beating California 96-72 in the seventh-place game.
After Thanksgiving, the World Surf League closed out its women’s championship tour at Honolua Bay. Six-time world champion Stephanie Gilmore defeated Kauai’s Malia Manuel in the final to earn her fourth Maui Women’s Pro title, and first since 2009. On her way to the title, Gilmore eliminated fellow Aussie Tyler Wright, the defending Maui champion who had earlier clinched her second straight world title.
* Stefanie Nakasone is at firstname.lastname@example.org