AOY Rewind: Cascos credit family, community for success
AOY Rewind is a special series of stories catching up with a handful of past Maui News Athletes of the Year. Stories will run periodically throughout the fall in The Maui News.
Kawika Casco looks back at his younger brothers’ accomplishments years ago in sports — and now in life — and beams with pride.
Casco is a family name that comes as close to sports royalty as any in Maui County — Kawika, Kainoa and Lake. All two-time state wrestling champions, all multi-sport standouts in the Maui Interscholastic League for Lahainaluna High School, all NCAA Division I athletes.
It started with Kawika, now a Maui County firefighter instructor who watched as Kainoa and Lake were each named winners of The Maui News MIL Boy Athlete of the Year.
Kawika Casco was quick to credit his parents, Randy and Stacy.
“For me, it was just kind of doing what we were brought up doing and my dad running,” Kawika Casco said. “Before all these summer programs and things came about, my dad was out there doing that with my older cousin with us growing up.
“Waking up at 5 in the morning, just the hard work and striving for excellence — that’s something that we were kind of brought up doing. I never thought of myself as paving the way. There was always guys ahead of me. I looked up to my cousins, my uncles, and of course, other Lahainaluna athletes. I was just out there having fun.”
Lake Casco was the recipient of The Maui News MIL AOY nod as a Luna senior in 2007-08 prior to a football career at the University of Pennsylvania, while Kainoa was a co-winner of the award with classmate Ikaika Neizman in 2001-02 prior to a wrestling career at Portland State.
Lake Casco graduated from Penn with a bachelor’s degree in material science engineering before earning a master’s of science in green technologies from Southern California. He now lives in Orange County, Calif., where he is an energy engineer for TRC, a large engineering consulting firm.
“I wear a lot of hats here, but generally it’s helping my clients improve their energy efficiency,” Lake said. “So, through controls or just technologies, helping them develop and implement projects to reduce their energy bills, save money, reduce their environmental impact. Things like that. Most of my clients are utilities, like Southern California Edison … and public agencies, so a lot of cities and other types of public agencies.”
Lake Casco is certain his sports background set him up for his current professional success at just 30 years old. Casco, who is engaged to Diana Reyes, played numerous positions for Lahainaluna football and ran hurdles on the track and field team.
“I think about that from time to time, you know, working in my professional career,” Lake said of his days as an athlete translating to his career. “I think it helps in a lot of ways. I think one of the main ways is just not being afraid to work hard, just putting in hours and knowing that you do have to work hard to get better.
“That’s one I definitely took not just from sports in general, but specifically from my family, from Lahainaluna, from the (West Maui) community in general. I learned a lot of those values.”
“Teamwork is something that not everyone in real life is really great at, so being able to work on a team for a company is really helpful,” he added. “You know, no one works by themselves truly, so I think that’s something that sports really helped with.”
The pressure of trying to match, not one, but two older brothers as two-time state wrestling champions among other standout achievements for Lahainaluna was not as immense as one might imagine for Lake.
“I think most of the pressure I put on myself,” he said. “Back in the day, I was always very supported by my family, my parents, my brothers — it was never, ‘You have to do this.’ It was, ‘You can.’ … I did personally feel pressure, you know obviously competitive and wanted to do as well as them or better.
“There was always that aspect, but I think more importantly the role model aspect. I always had very close and seemingly attainable goals that they set up. You know, they can do it, I can do it. They pretty much showed me a really good path to achievement. I think that was the story there more than the pressure.”
The Terukina family name from Oahu is all over the list of state champion wrestlers on the Hawaii High School Athletic Association website, but the Cascos are the only other name that includes at least three brothers with two state crowns apiece.
“We’re appreciative of growing up in Lahaina, for our coaches and our community, parents and each other,” Kainoa Casco said. “Pushing, you know it started with my older brother always striving. Whether it’s conscious or it’s subconscious, you always want to match or do better than your older brother. You feel like you have something to live up to.”
Kainoa Casco said any pressure that Lake Casco felt did not come from the older brothers.
“We always told him, ‘Don’t worry about it, we are proud of you, just do your best,’ “ Kainoa said. “He had already accomplished so much and we knew he works hard. He was probably the smartest one and most athletic one, but he put that pressure on himself.”
Kainoa Casco, 36, is the father of two young boys with wife Risa — Maverick is 2 years old, Thompson is 2 months old. Kainoa is a project manager for Mahi Pono, where he started in January.
Prior to that, he started and ran Susty Pacific, a corporate sustainability company that began in 2013 — Kainoa Casco turned over the company to his business partner before his move to Mahi Pono.
“I work with a group of old-timers here who manage our underground wells, pump water to the surface and manage our hydro-electric plant and construction work,” Kainoa Casco said. “So, in the field, any of the pumps and motors and stuff outside. We also take care of the farm facilities and processing maintenance. I help manage those crews.”
Kainoa redshirted as a football player at the University of San Diego as a freshman before transferring to Portland State, where he graduated in 2008. At Lahainaluna, he ran track in addition to playing football and wrestling.
“I think a lot, actually,” Kainoa said of his athletic background helping his career. “I have been very privileged to grow up with good coaches and community and support system, my parents essentially. My parents were always there for us. I think that really was the foundation for a lot of the work ethic we have — showing up on time, early, and working hard, knowing you have got to work for it in order to be successful.”
Kainoa Casco looks back at his MIL AOY award with pride. His younger brother’s selection only makes his smile grow wider.
“At the time, it came as a surprise, there’s always really good athletes every year on Maui and around the state,” he said. “It was a privilege and we were so lucky to get that honor — MIL Athlete of the Year. It feels good. If you work hard and bust your butt and stay on top of your athletic and academic and whatever other responsibilities you have. … Now, looking back at it … until you called, I hardly think about it.”
Risa Casco, an Iolani graduate, was a standout volleyball player at Cornell.
“I definitely do appreciate it because we’ve got kids now and I hope to get them involved in sports,” Kainoa Casco said. “We’re hopeful they can be the best they can be at whatever, including sports. It’s nice.”
Lahainaluna wrestling coach Todd Hayase worked with Randy Casco at Lahaina Intermediate School for several years.
“When I think about the Cascos and the Casco family, it always brings me back to their parents, Randy and Stacy,” Hayase said. “When I think of the Cascos, I give them all the props, the parents. Just incredible kids, not just athletically, they were just great kids, great family.”
Kawika Casco walked on and became a significant contributor on the University of Utah football teams in 2001, 2002 and 2005; knee injuries cost him complete seasons in 2003 and 2004 when he was with the Utes under head coach Urban Meyer.
He graduated from Lahainaluna in 2000, the only year in the last 30 that no MIL AOY award was presented.
In addition to football and wrestling, Kawika also played baseball, ran track and competed on the then-unofficial surfing team for the Lunas. Before becoming a fireman eight years ago, he was a teacher and athletic director at Maui Prep.
“That stuff’s like over my head, man,” Kawika Casco said of the AOY award that never came. “I don’t even care. It’s all good.”
Lake Casco said simply of his oldest brother, “He was actually the most successful, I think.”
* Robert Collias is at email@example.com