KEALAKEKUA – Ask Kapoina Bailey what makes a champion and the decorated Konawaena senior will respond with a smile.
“Hard work,” said Bailey, standing just outside of Konawaena’s Ellison Onizuka Gymnasium before judo practice this week.
Going into a little more detail, Bailey recalls the grueling mornings — and sometimes late nights — of her seventh grade year. Her dad, James Bailey, would get her up to do workouts. During the two hours sessions there were sprints, weights and sometimes even papa piggybacks, where she would carry her dad on her back.
“He’s not light — almost 300 pounds,” said Bailey. “That year was so dreadful, and I hated it at the time. But looking back, I learned so much about hard work and what it takes. I wouldn’t be where I am without it.”
After conquering their respective divisions, Bailey and Konawaena teammate Hailama Anakalea were recently named the BIIF judo players of the year, as voted by the league coaches.
Anakalea, a Wildcat sophomore and back-to-back BIIF champ, has a similar answer when it came to a recipe for success.
“I just keep pushing and try to make sure I’m doing my best,” Anakalea said. “Stretch every day, drink a bunch of water and eat fruits.”
Both will be looking to add more gold to their resumes at the HHSAA judo state championships Saturday on Oahu at the Stan Sheriff Center.
Anakalea (285 pounds) and Bailey (172) are both top seeds in their respective weight classes, as are Waiakea standouts Aden Leyson (114), Samantha Yamamoto (98) and Raelyn Ai-Yoneda (122).
With a top seed next to their names and the BIIF player of the year accolades on their resumes, there’s an obvious amount of expectation for the Wildcat duo.
“It’s a little more pressure,” Anakalea said of being a top seed, “but I’m ready.”
Bailey’s pursuit of back-to-back wrestling state championships came up just short in February, falling to in the 168-pound title match.
The loss, something Bailey has rarely tasted during her career on the mat, has only made her hungrier as she aims to defend her judo state crown this weekend.
“After that loss, it flipped a switch in me,” said Bailey. “I’m kind of in that killer mode. I want it bad.”
Anakalea is looking to improve on a third place finish last year at states.
“I’m excited,” he said. “I’m just looking to get my name out there and do the best I can.”
There are a variety of similarities between Konawaena’s champs, most notably their extracurricular schedules.
They played football in the fall together and wrestled in the winter season. And with a week between the BIIF and state championships for judo, both attended the Hawaii Rugby 15s high school state championship tournament on Oahu last weekend as members of the Kona Bulls.
It makes for a busy spring, but they make the dual-sport student-athlete balancing act work.
“You just learn how to manage your time,” said Bailey, whose workload also includes a pair of AP classes (calculus and chemistry). “With judo and wrestling especially, you need to be self-motivated if you want to be successful.”
The judo championships are part of the final stretch in Konawaena Green for Bailey, who has already signed a scholarship deal to play rugby for Lindenwood University.
It’s something that should make her dad, James — a native of New Zealand, where rugby is ingrained in the culture — extra proud. It’s also a testament that all those training sessions that instilled a strong work ethic early on paid off.
“Champions aren’t just made in practice. You have to be doing things outside of practice to reach that next level,” Bailey said. “It’s all in the details.”
A pipeline of sorts is beginning to form between the Big Island and Lindenwood. Among the other Big Island standouts to sign with the Missouri school were brother-sister duo and Kealakehe grads Nika and Tama Paogofie-Buyten, as well as Waverider senior Setu Vole.
“It’s going to be a great opportunity,” Bailey said, who visited the school during the frigid month of November. “It is cold up there. I wasn’t used to it. My toes were freezing.”
Chances are, Bailey will be keeping her self busy enough at Lindenwood to stay warm.