After two years off, MIL wrestlers hit the mats
WAILUKU — Kacey-Lee Pua was in her element on Saturday in the Jon Garcia Gym on the Baldwin High School campus.
The Bears senior was one of about 100 wrestlers from around the Maui Interscholastic League doing what they love for the first time in nearly two years.
Pua was the runner-up in the Texaco/HHSAA state tournament at 155 pounds as a sophomore on Feb. 22, 2020.
That day was the last time any MIL wrestler stepped onto a high school mat until Saturday’s MIL round-robin meet No. 1 after last season was scrapped due to the pandemic.
“At first I was nervous because I haven’t had it for two years, you know, for wrestling season,” Pua said. “But this past summer I did go to Utah — I would say I did OK, but I was very excited to be back. My first match (today) I did have jitters, but my second match I talked to myself and I mentally put myself there and I said: ‘You know what, it’s my senior year and I want to do the best that I can.’ “
Pua record two pins in her two matches on Saturday at 168, both over Hana’s Kuahiwi Lind.
Now that Pua’s season has started, she has one goal in mind — state title.
“It’s big, it has been very big since after I got runner-up,” she said. “Even if I did put my best out there my sophomore year, I worked junior year and this year to strive to be state champ.”
She recently committed to wrestle collegiately at Midland University in Fremont, Neb. She will leave a family legacy for her four younger brothers.
“I’m very excited, I’m finally the oldest child going up to the Mainland,” she said. “We did go through a very rough patch all growing up, but you know, I do want to set an example for them — I think I am. My brother (Kawelo Yoro-Pua) is here wrestling for Maui High, so I’m very proud of him.”
The Sabers had a familiar face in their corner as acting head coach, although none of the youngsters wrestling for Lindsay Ball on Saturday were alive the last time he was with Maui High — his seven-year tenure as head coach ended in 1997.
“It’s a great experience for me, too, giving back into wrestling,” said Ball, who recently retired as Complex Area Superintendent of the Canoe District covering Lahainaluna, Lanai, Molokai and Hana. “I haven’t been in wrestling for at least five years, at all. The kids are awesome kids. I mean, they’re respectful, they want to learn, they keep asking me to come back, so it’s been a good experience.”
Ball has seen children of wrestlers he coached in the 1990s become wrestlers themselves.
“I just think it’s really important we get our athletes and our other extra-curricular back in the swing, so it’s good to be back around wrestling,” Ball said. “The coaches, it’s good to get back around all the coaches today. We’ve got inexperienced kids, but we’re going to get better.”
Veteran Hana coach Ryan Uchiyama was in the gym with two girls wrestlers who made the trip — the Dragons have a total of five girls, but two were missing due to COVID protocols.
“Normally at our first tournament every year it’s like, ‘What am I doing here this year?’ Now, it’s like, ‘Hey, this is great.’ Like to see the kids back in action,” said Uchiyama, who along with co-coach Ron Santone has been coaching Hana for 36 years. “It’s only for them, but yeah, it’s really great.”
Christian Clarion was a key member of the Lahainaluna football team that lost in the Division I state championship game last month. Now, he is back on the wrestling mats for the Lunas with hopes of a state championship there.
“Oh, it feel great, just the thrill, the nerves like coming back, building up again, the excitement of being able to take someone down,” said Clarion, who won his 138-pound weight class with three pins in three matches. “This is like family, too, just like it was in football. Everyone in the wrestling room is family. We treat each other with respect. Like we’re brothers and sisters.”
Lahainaluna’s Ikaika Gonzales finished second to teammate Keawe Kane-Keahi at 182 pounds.
“It feels amazing to be back,” Gonzales said after a pin win in his second match of the day, which followed a loss to Kane-Keahi. “That pin felt amazing. This is a big day. It’s great to be back and it’s been a really long time since I got to wrestle.”
Malakai Panuve is the Baldwin coach who organized the first MIL tournament in 23 months.
“I’m thinking this is close to between 80 and 100 kids, which is a good start,” Panuve said. “It feels good, good to be back here in the arena. It’s nice to see the kids participate. It’s nice to see your younger kids, your freshmen and sophomores who missed last year because of the pandemic — this is their first high school tournament, a lot of them it’s their first matches. So, it’s great, to have a win, especially for these freshmen. It’s a huge joy just to see the smile on their face.
“It’s good. It’s a good start, it’s a good feeling. We got the ball rolling. Hopefully it can get better every weekend and we can get more participants coming back.”
The next meet is at Maui High’s Shine Matsui Athletic Center and the hope that was being discussed Saturday is that the larger venue will be able to allow spectators, who were not in attendance at Baldwin.
Lahainaluna coach Todd Hayase was also among those happy to be back.
“Every team is missing a handful, so, we’ve got a bunch out (due to COVID protocols), but, man, just to be here today, this is nearly two years of not competing in the MIL,” Hayase said. “For us to be in the gym and actually wrestling is awesome. It’s not about the wins and losses today, it’s just so nice to be here as coaches and to see these kids wrestle. It is awesome, man. Awesome.”
* Robert Collias is at email@example.com.
MIL Round-Robin Meet
Saturday’s Results • At Baldwin
97 pounds–1. Jaliyah Alana Rodrigues, Maui High.
112–1. Naiomi Kulukulualani Sales, Lahainaluna; 2. Kanoelani Kekiwi Jones, King Kekaulike; 3. Elena Beauchamp Estrella, Kamehameha Maui; 4. Kadie Kron, Lahainaluna.
122–1. Deja Fernandez, Baldwin; 2. Shaelyn Perreira, Maui High; 3. Krystel Valoroso, King Kekaulike.
127A–1. Alicia Frank, Lahainaluna; 2. Teani Medeiros Maielua, Lahainaluna; 3. Briseis Obregon, King Kekaulike; 4. Crystin Dior Treu, Lahainaluna.
127B–1. Uilaunaole Fernandez, Maui High; 2. Kapili Poaipuni Pasco, King Kekaulike.
145–1. Shansi Boaz Vasquez, Lahainaluna; 2. Lilata Sansone, Hana.
168–1. Kaceylee Pua, Baldwin; 2. Kuahiwi Lind, Hana.
225–1. Catherine Asami, Lahainaluna; 2. Shiloh Kamaka, Baldwin; 3. Moanikeala Pahukoa, Baldwin.
106A–1. Chase Yasutake, Lahainaluna; 2. Keona Holokai Basa, Baldwin; 3. Landon Los Banos, Kamehameha Maui.
106B–1. Kaimana Hammond Reyes, Baldwin; 2. Raymond Curry, King Kekaulike.
113A–1. Jayse Koyama, Lahainaluna; 2. Randy Esperanza, Baldwin; 3. Ckristian Oliva, Lanai.
113B–1. James Mccall, King Kekaulike; 2. Peyton Cagasan, Kamehameha Maui.
120A–1. Diesel Del Rosario, Lanai; 2. Marcus Marinas, Baldwin; 3. Jeyden Laborte, Lahainaluna; 4. Dax Platiro, Baldwin.
120B–1. Jaeden Dumlao-Ranis, Lanai; 2. Kody Sakamoto, Kamehameha Maui; 3. Kawelo Yoro Pua, Maui High; 4. James Anthony Ibuos, Maui High.
126A–1. Hakaru Nitahara, Kamehameha Maui; 2. Kalani Yokote, Baldwin; 3. Hoken Hironaka, Lahainaluna.
132–1. Mikah Labuanan, Kamehameha Maui; 2. Kalaheo Sakamoto, Kamehameha Maui; 3. Jarett Koyama, Lahainaluna.
138–1. Christian Clarion, Lahainaluna; 2. Kapena Vitcovich, Kamehameha Maui; 3. Ej De La Cruz, Baldwin; 4. Duke Brown, Kamehameha Maui.
145–1. Bryson Adric, Baldwin; 2. Caese Calaro, Baldwin; 3. Arlee Milliron, King Kekaulike; 4. Klent Lyvenn Gumboc, Maui High.
152–1. Nai Hasegawa, Baldwin; 2. Jonahs Kalalau, Lahainaluna; 3. Cody Alejo, Maui High.
160–1. Keala Smith, Lahainaluna; 2. Hunter Cuaresma, Lahainaluna; 3. Ian Smith, King Kekaulike.
182A–1. Keawe Kane Keahi, Lahainaluna; 2. Ikaika Gonzales, Lahainaluna; 3. Branson Cajudoy, Baldwin.
182B–1. Almeida Kekona Akyles, Baldwin; 2. Treyvin Ilustrisimo, Maui High.
220–1. Aaron Hue Sing, Baldwin; 2. Jackson Hussey, Lahainaluna; 3. Chaser Boaz, Lahainaluna; 4. Izaac Pacheco Garcia, Lahainaluna.
285–1. Kolinaise Latu, Lahainaluna; 2. Tysyn Estrella, King Kekaulike; 3. Morgan Montgomery, Lahainaluna.