HILO – They keep growing great golfers on trees at Waiakea, where freshman Kiersten Saludares shot the best round of her young life and made a memorable debut.
Saludares shot a 1-under-par 70 to win the BIIF season-opener on Wednesday at Hilo Municipal Golf Course, where the Warriors displayed their dominance.
She is the sister of Kaley Saludares, a 2018 Waiakea graduate and two-time BIIF champion. She’s now golfing at Concordia in Portland.
Last year, Lacey Uchida, the BIIF runner-up, joined the Warriors. She’s the sister of Kaelyn Uchida, who’s now golfing at UH-Hilo. Lacey Uchida didn’t golf in the season-opener because Waiakea coach Bobby Perreira’s goal is to qualify his eight Warriors for states.
Two-time defending BIIF champion Mari Ebersole, a junior, is not golfing this season.
It’s more likely than not that the Warriors will continue their double awards: BIIF team and individual champion. They’ve won the last four crowns, and a Warrior has captured the last 15 BIIF titles.
There’s a severe lack of girl golfers, and that’s affecting the field at BIIF meets. Waiakea was the only school to have the required three golfers to form a team. The Warriors won the team title and placed all three starters in the top three.
Senior Tia Kualii was second with a 79, and sophomore Kailey Oki was third with an 84.
Saludares was consistent on the front and back nines. She was 1-over on the front and fired five birdies.
“My chipping was pretty good, and I hit more greens than I expected,” said Saludares, who had to nice holds. “On the eighth holes, I had a 15-foot putt, and on the 16th hole I chipped in from 10 to 15 yards. I was really exciting for me. It was my best round overall.”
In a sibling moment, she faced-timed her sister in Portland, where the weather was far worse than Hilo.
“Her advice to me was take every shot one step at a time and stay positive,” Saludares said. “I had a lot of help from my dad, Regino, and my stepdad, Kevin Hayashi. They helped me with my swing, and are very supportive. My mom (Teri) is also very supportive.”
Kualii is suddenly one of three veterans on the squad. She had one birdie and stayed in the hunt with her short game.
“My chipping and putting were keeping me up,” she said. “Our team is very strong, and we push each other to do better.”
Saludares pointed out that even practices are competitive with the team split into two groups to push each other. Even during exercises, the Warriors are pushing and encouraging each other. That drive for improvement never sleeps.
“The team is going to be good,” Perreira said. “We’ve got a lot of talent and good parents.”
Kualii, Tori Hironaga and Jillian Mitsuda are seniors. Oki and Megan Nakamoto are sophomores, and Saludares and Elle Otani are freshmen.
“Our goal is to do well at states,” Perreira said. “We’re preparing to work hard and represent Waiakea at the state level. Our goal is to qualify as many girls as possible for states. Some have to sit out. Fortunately, we have team players.”
At the end of a long day, it was a good memory to take home for Saludares, who won her BIIF debut, faced-time her sister and had her best round in front of her parents.
“I had a lot of support,” Saludares said. “I pulled through and stayed positive. It’s one to remember.”