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The Maui News 2019 MIL Tennis All-Stars

Top honors to Tiger Sharks: State champion Lopez, runner-up Wilstead lead banner year for school

Hobbes Wilstead led Kihei Charter School to the MIL boys team title before winning his second league singles title and finishing runner-up at the state tournament last month. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Kihei Charter School’s Jessalyn Lopez and Hobbes Wilstead put in the work, and they were rewarded with breakthrough seasons.

Both Tiger Shark juniors made a bit of history at the HMSA State Tennis Championships on the Big Island last month, and are The Maui News’ Maui Interscholastic League Tennis Players of the Year.

“Jess and Hobbes are just great teammates,” Kihei Charter coach Ian Cohen said. “They’re very down to earth and easy to coach, and they’re always trying to get better each and every day at practice and they’re just really good student-athletes.”

At states, Lopez defeated fourth-seeded Maile Brilhante of Waiakea 7-6 (3), 6-4 to become the first MIL singles player, boy or girl, to win a state title since Malino Oda of Lahainaluna won back-to-back boys titles in 1997-98.

The last MIL girls singles player to win a state title was Baldwin’s Kari Luna in 1994.

Tiger Sharks junior Jessalyn Lopez capped her season with her third straight MIL girls singles title and her first state crown — she is the first MIL singles player, boy or girl, to win a state title since 1998. West Hawaii Today / RICK WINTERS photo

“I didn’t really think about (winning the state title) until it got closer to states, and then I realized I had a chance,” Lopez said. “During my freshman year or sophomore year, there was always really good girls, or senior girls, that I knew were always extremely good, and once they all left, I realized I had a shot.”

While this isn’t her first MIL POY award — she has won the last three league championships — Lopez is always open to improving, saying, “I definitely want to work on my serve” as well as her net game and volleys.

This summer, she is taking part in the LAT Tennis Academy in Florida for two months to prepare for her senior year. Lopez attended LAT in California last summer, too.

“I think it made a big difference for her,” Cohen said. “It was that extra preparation for the season that helped her win MILs and then states.”

Lopez is joined on the MIL girls All-Star team — which consists of the top finishers from the MIL tournament — by Seabury Hall’s Nikki Fernando, Chiemi Powell and Jessica Griffiths; Kamehameha Maui’s Kaitlyn Ralar, Kayleen Lau and Kaelyn Kato; and Maui High’s Hoohieokala Luna-Beamer.

Wilstead, and two-time MIL boys singles champion, finished runner-up at states after falling to top-seeded senior Ryo Minakata of Hawaii Prep 7-6 (5), 6-3 in the final. Wilstead was the first MIL player to qualify for a state boys singles final since St. Anthony’s Kento Tanaka-Tamaki in 2011.

Wilstead was proud that Lopez took home a state gold medal for their school.

“I’m not disappointed about this season. It would have been a plus to clinch the state champ title,” Wilstead said. “But that was, like, (one of) the first state championships that Kihei Charter has taken in a sport.”

Finishing second in the state has also motivated Wilstead to work on his cardio and overall game for next year.

“The grind never stops,” he said. “I’ve traveled through the Mainland the last two summers, playing in several national tournaments as well as training at an academy. For this summer, I think I’m going to enjoy my last summer a bit more before I have to go to college. Hopefully it will involve more surfing.”

In addition to his individual accomplishments, Wilstead also helped lead the Kihei Charter boys to the MIL team championship in the team’s first year. And they did it with just five players — Wilstead, Quinn Shapiro, Trevor Coronesi, Devon Baldwin and Zack Fernando.

Shapiro joins Wilstead on the MIL boys All-Star team, along with Seabury Hall’s Miles Stone, Zack Walker and Sterling Sandler; and Baldwin’s Aden Kinoshita, Cody Sears and Nicolas Wittenburg.

Thanks to Lopez’s and Wilstead’s finishes, the Tiger Sharks tied for third in the girls team standings and placed fourth in boys at the state tournament. Wilstead hopes that their success this season has set a good example for other Kihei Charter students to join the tennis team.

“Both players had an outstanding season,” Cohen added. “Each year they’ve improved … definitely good visibility and exposure for the school. … I definitely think we won’t be in a situation this next year where we’ll be short-handed. We should have a full team next year for girls and boys, so we hopefully won’t have to default second doubles like we had to this year.”

* Dakota Grossman is at dgrossman@mauinews.com.