2019-20 MIL Athletes of the Year
Nanea Estrella: After stellar prep career, Estrella ready for next step
Nanea Estrella remembers laughing at the thought when she first heard Zane Monteleone utter it. The Lahainaluna High School assistant wrestling coach told her as a freshman she could one day be a four-time state champion.
That came true in February — she’s just the second in Maui Interscholastic League history. She started the sport as a 4-year-old competing for the Upcountry Wrestling Club coached by her father Isaac.
Now, she is the fifth Lahainaluna athlete to be named The Maui News MIL Girl Athlete of the Year, joining Jean Okada (1991-92), Aina Kohler (1995-96, 1996-97), Lisa Arcangel 1997-98) and Lalelei Mataafa (2014-15, 2015-16).
“That’s really, really awesome, actually,” Estrella said. “I’m really happy to get this honor.”
It wasn’t until she got to Lahainaluna that the light went on that she could be a star in the sport during that fateful talk with Monteleone. It happened at the Maui Invitational Tournament at the King Kekaulike gym.
“I won my semifinal against a senior from California and she went on to place fourth in California state tournament,” Estrella said. “I beat her in a match and I was kind of like, ‘OK, well I can do this. I’m not that bad of a wrestler. I made it this far in this tournament and we’ll see how it goes. Hopefully it’s not just luck.’
“I think it was right after the preseason tournaments, I bought in and I started listening to Coach Zane’s crazy, crazy thoughts and his crazy ideas.”
Monteleone had worked closely with her older brother Kainalu for a couple years before Nanea arrived as a boarder at the West Maui school.
“Nanea showed up and she was going through the ups and downs of being a boarder because being a boarder is tough,” Monteleone said. “It’s really tough going from 100 percent doing whatever you want to boarder and then also athletics and taking care of your schooling and doing your own laundry, all that fun stuff.”
In October 2016, Estrella started attending weight training with five or six other Luna wrestlers under Monteleone.
“One of the drills was to do an arm hang after doing a max amount of pull-ups,” Monteleone recalled. “So, a couple of the boys get up there and max out at seven or eight pull-ups. Nanea tells me, ‘I can hit about 18,’ and I said, ‘No you can’t.’
“So she get up there and hits 18 and holds herself up and asked me if she wanted me to have her do a couple more. I told her to get off there and just shook my head. Like, I’ve got Superwoman over here.”
Lahainaluna head coach Todd Hayase is not surprised by much of anything Estrella accomplishes. He credits parents Johanna and Isaac Estrella.
“I don’t know, man, you’ve got to give it up to Isaac and Johanna and the entire Estrella clan up there for prepping them for not just wrestling, but for life,” Hayase said. “Not just her, but her and her brother. Isaac had them from 5 years old in the youth wrestling program. A lot of it is a mental game and I think the Estrellas definitely prepared them for battle.”
The honors have been pouring in for Nanea Estrella in the last couple months.
In early May, she was named to the Hawaii High School Athletic Association Hall of Honor and on May 26 she was named the 2020 national winner of the Tricia Saunders High School Excellence Award by the National Wrestling Hall of Fame.
“It’s been a very good one,” Estrella said of her senior year. “It’s been amazing. I do feel like I’ve been blessed with so many things and it’s amazing to just see how all of my hard work throughout all of my year paid off.”
To go along with her four state titles, Estrella knows she is ready to step up. She admits she thinks about wearing “USA” across her chest perhaps someday competing in the Olympics.
“I have always had confidence and I have always known that I have the ability to do something great and to just keep on working hard, but with these (accolades) all behind me it kind of shows me I have the ability to be a great wrestler,” she said. “I just need to keep working at it. All in all, whatever tournament I go to, wherever I go, I know that there will always be somebody better than me, so I just have to work to be the best, to go past that level.
“It’s not the titles that give me the confidence, it’s knowing that I can do better.”
Her career record as a Luna was 82-4, including 20-1 as a senior. Her lone loss was to her cousin, Waipuilani Estrella-Beauchamp of Baldwin, in the final of the season-opening Garner Ivey Invitational.
“That was a really, really big thing in my career,” she said of the loss. “That was one of the biggest losses of my career because it kind of showed me that no matter what I’ve done before, I can always get caught off-guard. It shook me, but it motivated me to work harder and to not expect everything to be handed to me.”
Estrella is currently in Idaho training with her club coach Jacob Eck at American Falls Wrestling Club as she prepares for collegiate competition at Menlo College in California.
With nationals in Fargo, N.D., wiped out this summer due to the coronavirus pandemic — Estrella was a runner-up there last summer at 122 pounds — she is doing her best to find competition and will enter state events in Idaho and Utah this summer for Greco and freestyle competitions.
“I’m going to be up here for the whole summer — Idaho is an open state, so we’re going to do a couple of tournaments,” Estrella said.
Menlo won the Women’s Collegiate Wrestling Association and NAIA national team titles in 2019 — NAIA nationals were canceled in March due to the pandemic and the WCWA meet was not on the Menlo schedule this spring. Hawaii native Joey Bareng is entering his eighth season as Menlo head coach.
“I’m very, very excited,” she said. “I’m excited to join the team and join the family. The program is just such a good program with good coaches and they set you up for your future. It’s going to be an amazing experience.”
She admitted that it is a bit odd to be done as a Luna, but she is ready to move on.
“Ever since before wrestling season this year I was looking forward to the future,” Estrella said. “I was looking at colleges and then when I finally committed I was planning on all of my college things. So, although it came to a short end, it felt like I did live out a very good high school career overall. I didn’t get to live out those last couple months, but in the end it’s OK.”
She will never forget Luna Nation. She lives Upcountry but Lahainaluna is clearly in her heart.
“The support from the community, it’s amazing,” she said. “It’s outrageous how much they give back and they support everybody. Like, you can just get recognized in Lahaina town as an athlete. It’s amazing — it helps you so much, it motivates you because it gives you something to fight for other than yourself.”
Kainalu Estrella, a former state champion who is currently wrestling for Utah Valley University, was always a driving force for his younger sister.
“He helped me a lot actually,” Nanea Estrella said. “He was always there whenever I needed him, if I needed to talk about something, if he needed to (point) me in the right path or the right direction, he’d give me advice. He was always there.
“So that’s amazing, he helped me a lot. He definitely helped me be the person that I am today.”
* Robert Collias is at firstname.lastname@example.org.
MIL Girl Athletes of the Year
1990-91–Kimmie Ouchi, Seabury Hall
1991-92–Jean Okada, Lahainaluna
1992-93–Joelynn Naki, Baldwin
1993-94–Kari Luna, Baldwin
1994-95–Prestine Foster, Baldwin
1995-96–Aina Kohler, Lahainaluna
1996-97–Aina Kohler, Lahainaluna
1997-98–Aloha Santiago, Baldwin, and Lisa Arcangel, Lahainaluna
1998-99–Cassie Coffin, St. Anthony
2000-01–Nicole Garbin, Baldwin
2001-02–Ashlyn Russell, Baldwin
2002-03–Chandi Bickford, King Kekaulike
2003-04–Kami Kapaku, Baldwin, and Tia Ferguson, Seabury Hall
2004-05–Emalia Suehiro, King Kekaulike
2005-06–Tiara Dole, St. Anthony
2006-07–Chelsea Machida, Maui High
2007-08–Bailey Massenburg, King Kekaulike
2008-09–Bailey Massenburg, King Kekaulike
2009-10–Kalei Adolpho, Molokai
2010-11–Kalei Adolpho, Molokai
2011-12–Dakota Grossman, Seabury Hall
2012-13–Dakota Grossman, Seabury Hall
2013-14–Dakota Grossman, Seabury Hall
2014-15–Lalelei Mataafa, Lahainaluna
2015-16–Lalelei Mataafa, Lahainaluna
2016-17–Ava Shipman, Seabury Hall
2017-18–Veronica Winham, Seabury Hall, and Rebecca Buenrostro-Gallimore, Baldwin
2018-19–Chloe Gangnath, Seabury Hall
2019-20–Nanea Estrella, Lahainaluna
Note: No winner selected in 1999-2000