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BIIF judo: Boosted by large freshman turnout, Waiakea sweeps titles

April 20, 2017 - 8:54pm

Of the 20 freshmen who burst through the school cafeteria doors and turned out for Waiakea’s judo team this year, not everyone was as seasoned as Samantha Yamamoto or Kolby Namnama.

“A lot had no experience, but we’re willing to teach anyone who is willing to learn,” coach Jason Tanaka said.

If there is one thing Tanaka has done this season, it’s teach.

During a good season, the Warriors will have 25-plus judoka, maybe 28 or 29 if they are lucky. This season, thanks in large part to the strong freshman turnout, Waiakea’s roster is 48 strong.

That’s more work – the rewarding kind – for Tanaka and his staff, and most if not all BIIF coaches will admit that depth, the ability to fill out as many as the 10 weight classes as possible, is half the battle.

“Getting them up to par to do judo well, that’s the other half,” Tanaka said. “I like to teach good judo and if we end up winning, that’s always a bonus.”

In this case, it was a double bonus. Two halves make a whole, and it added up to two championships Saturday at Konawaena as the Warriors swept the boys and girls titles for time since 2007.

“They push each other really well,” said Tanaka, who is his 13th season at the helm of the program. “They know it is important for the quality to be there. Quality is really important.”

The boys team earned a measure of revenge, turning the tables on a Hilo team that it lost to in the 2016 final and winning 57-35. In the semifinals, the Warriors downed Kamehameha 72-10.

Namnama helped set the tone against the Vikings by winning a tough match at 114 pounds, Kyler Fujimoto was victorious at 132, and freshman Isaac Ingall provided an upset of sorts by beating Micah Kang in a 178 match that Tanaka thought could have gone either way.

The Warrior wahine repeated, beating Kealakehe 70-20 in the semifinals and Keaau 50-30 in final.

Considering his depth, Tanaka wouldn’t be surprised if many of the finals at Saturday’s BIIF individual championships, which start at 10:30 a.m. at Waiakea’s gym, came down to a battle of Warriors teammates.

“They take it seriously at practice,” Tanaka said. “They know to qualify for states, you have to get in the top two.”

On the girls side, Liann Yamamoto (109) and Katie Lee (122) will be defending their championships, and Tanaka not only expects Samantha Yamamoto to fare well at BIIFs in the 98 division, but also at the HHSAA meet on May 6 in Honolulu.

“She has the ability to compete for a (state) title this year,” Tanaka said. “The future looks good.”

So does the present.

Primed to fill 19 of 20 weight classes, including all 10 on the boys side, the coaches goal at BIIFs is nothing less than for Waiakea to produce 19 winners.

“I’ve told them that is the goal.” Tanaka said. “A small percentage of luck can decide who wins a match.”

Koby Dela Cruz is the defending boys champion at 108 and Fujimoto was runner-up last season behind teammate Kellen Goya, a four-time champion.

A gold rush will be especially tough on the girls side because of three returning defending champions: Kamehameha’s Kayla Araki (154), Keaau’s Ivory Ayers (172) and Kealakehe’s Roxie Umu (220).

Araki claimed a state crown in 2016, while Ayers and Umu were runners-up.

However it goes, Tanaka has seen his judoka put in the work throughout the season during practices at the school cafeteria. While, Kamehameha, Hilo, Keaau and others have areas designed specifically for wrestling/judo, Waiakea still has “humble practices.”

“Sometimes we use that as motivation,” Tanaka said. “We move the tables everyday and roll out the mats and then roll them back up. It’s something they know has to be done.”

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