BIIF paddling championships: Ka Makani boys, mixed crews coast as expected; Kealakehe girls edge Keaau

  • Hawaii Prep celebrates its boys paddling championship Saturday at Hilo Bay. (HOLLYN JOHNSON/Hawaii Tribune-Herald)

HILO – The BIIF’s most unbeatable streak lives on for another year. But it’s good to keep in mind that dynastic runs have an expiration date.

The Konawaena girls basketball team held the most impressive one: unbeaten over 10-plus seasons, until Waiakea won 54-25 on Jan. 10, stopping the streak at 124 games.

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The sweep for the three titles (boys, girls, mixed) at the BIIF canoe championships remains the Mount Everest no school has been able to climb.

It’s the 19th year of BIIF canoe paddling, and that elusive sweep gets safely tucked into bed until next year.

Hawaii Prep entered as the favorite to win the boys and mixed BIIF titles and got that done by comfortable margins on Saturday at Hilo Bay. Kealakehe surprised everyone but itself and took the girls title.

The suspense was drained early when the Ka Makani girls crew buried the flag in a preliminary heat, getting eliminated for the final, but that half-mile race turned out to be the best of the day.

With inspiration planted in its heart and a hard-charging attack, Kealakehe stunned defending champion Keaau, 4:27.32 to 4:28.89, to win its first championship since 2017.

Down the stretch, about 25 yards from the finish line, the Cougars did a changeover, lost a little steam and the Waveriders cheerfully took first.

Why the changeover?

Sometimes, arms get tired paddling on one side of the canoe, and small mistakes don’t look critical until the opposition swipes your glory.

Maybe the changeover made a difference and maybe it didn’t. The Waveriders were prepared for a fight to the finish.

“We knew Keaau would be a fighter and has excellent pickup, but we trained and were ready for it,” Kealakehe coach Mike Atwood said.

The crew also was powered by the memory of Uncle Bo Campos, who died last month.

The former coach was good at pulling out the best from his paddlers.

“They paddled for him and could hear his voice, ‘Go, Kealakehe,’ He definitely did inspire them,” Atwood said.

It’s a fairly young crew with just seniors in Darby Muramoto, the stroker, and Livi McClure. Aulike Kaiawe and Kema Stegehuis are sophomores, and Kamomi Villaverde, and Leann Hamilton are juniors.

Atwood looks at the times of other island crews and believes his crew can make a run at the HHSAA state regatta, scheduled for Feb. 2 at Oahu’s Keehi Lagoon.

“I know we’re competitive with the OIA, but I don’t know about the ILH because they do long-distance regatta,” he said. “But we’ve got good potential.”

Double gold

Ka Makani seniors Kala Thurston, Hunter Ellis, and Jake Honl-DeGuair have been the backbone for the boys and mixed crews, which both follow a similar strategy, taking clean turns and finishing strong with precise timing.

“We’ve been working on our start, changed our method to get into the hole a little faster,” HPA coach Mesepa Tanoai said. “That enabled us to settle down, and we played the turn super safe. We tried to maintain our lead and stayed together.”

Bennett Varney, Kama Liu, Ford Stallsmith, and alternate Tain Lawson were also on the crew, which finished in 3:44.66, ahead of Kamehameha’s 3:51.60. Kealakehe placed third in 4:00.44 to grab the league’s last state spot.

The HPA mixed crew of Thurston, Ellis, Annika Berezney, Gabriella Silva, Mikaela Chong, and Honl-DeGuair breezed to another sizable win in 3:50.43 to Keaau’s 3:55.60. Parker claimed third and a state berth.

The Ehunui girls crew also earned a state berth.

Tanoai believes offseason work is the key to accomplishing the elusive BIIF sweep.

“It’s easier to teach technique if they come back in shape,” he said.

Last year, Waiakea won the boys BIIF title while Keaau scooped double gold with the girls and mixed crowns.

In 2014, Keaau came close. The Cougars got the boys and girls title, but Kealakehe pocketed the mixed championship.

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Two years earlier, Kealakehe got the first two, but HPA took the mixed title. Atwood remembers that season well.

“It’s never been done, but that’s the goal of everyone,” he said. “It would be an accomplishment though.”