By KEVIN JAKAHI
H ilo High’s football team dominated the headlines and left little doubt about its first-place standing at the end of the year.
It was an easy call that coach Kaeo Drummondo, his Vikings, and Kahale Huddleston’s 35 touchdowns were selected as the Tribune-Herald’s top sports story of 2017.
The Vikings had a full platter of accomplishments, starting with their fifth consecutive BIIF Division I title and turning up the noise from there.
For so long, there was an unwanted drumbeat in November on the gridiron: The BIIF is the only league still winless at the HHSAA Division I tournament.
All the others, the ILH, OIA, MIL and even the three-team KIF, won a Division I state game even before last year’s three-tier format.
When was it going to be the Big Island’s turn? Would that 0 for 19 skid grow longer? Could Maui High be beaten?
Three answers came on Saturday, Nov. 5 at Wong Stadium, where the Vikings put the Sabers into submission with a 26-7 victory.
With one piece of history out of the way, the Vikings went back to the grind before the Division I state championship against Damien, another team of destiny.
The Monarchs, the three-time ILH champs, were a rising power, much like Hilo, which was winless not too long ago in 2011.
We’ll stop here to point out the obvious. The OIA neglected to field a Division I team for states, saving its bullets for the Open to no avail. (Saint Louis beat Kahuku 31-28.)
However, it’s worth noting that last year Leilehua needed a blocked field goal to prevail over Hilo 26-25. The Mules were the OIA’s No. 3 team in Division I.
A week later after surviving the media hype, Hilo came out on fire and flattened Damien 35-19, bringing home the BIIF’s first gridiron state title.
There have been other memorable state championships, and the list is long. Pick any of Konawaena’s eight crowns for girls basketball. Waiakea’s 2012 baseball edition is a good one, with Quintin Torres-Costa and Kodi Medeiros combining on a no-hitter against Baldwin.
But the 2017 Vikings will go down in history as the most significant for breaking a formidable skid and hammering home a self-belief that BIIF football belongs in the same company as the other leagues.
Drummondo put the old stand-by coach’s quote of “hard work pays off” into a neat little nutshell.
“It’s great for the BIIF and all the other schools on the Big Island,” he said in the celebration at Aloha Stadium. “It shows that kids from the Big Island can compete. They just have to work hard. That’s why we spend time in the weight room and work hard at practice.”
Following are capsules on the rest of the Top 10:
2.) Konawaena football
It was the game that would never end. The Division II state championship between the Wildcats and Lahainaluna lasted a state record four hours and 10 minutes and seven overtimes.
Wildcat seniors Austin Ewing (33 of 55, 266 yards, three touchdowns) and Chancey Mariani-Louis (191 yards, 42 carries) went out in style.
But it wasn’t enough. The Lunas won 75-69. And the BIIF is still searching for its first Division II championship for football.
3.) Hilo Senior RBI World Series
The Hilo-based Nobu Yamauchi team beat Patterson, N.J. for the 19-under championship in August in Cincinnati.
It was Hilo’s first title in the 25th anniversary of the RBI tournament and capped a father-son moment for coach James Hirayama and his son Jamieson.
The coach won a title with the Nobu Yamauchi Senior softball team in 2009 but switched over to baseball in 2013 “so my son could experience a World Series.”
4.) Konawaena girls basketball
On Feb. 4, the Wildcats captured their third straight Division I title over Maryknoll 53-48 and their eight overall.
Konawaena also pocketed its ninth BIIF title in a row and poured more cement on its legacy as the greatest program in league history.
With Chanelle Molina at Washington State, Cherilyn Molina grabbed the wheel last season and scored 14 points against the Spartans, a two-time runner-up and threat to Konawaena’s dynasty.
5.) Keaau’s Ivory Ayers
In February, Ayers won gold at the state judo championships, the league’s first in three years. It was a nice graduation gift for herself and added to her legacy.
She’s the second greatest wrestler/judoka in league history with three golds for wrestling and four for judo, a 7 for 7 deal. Ayers has a gold in each sport and a heart of gold, too. The unassuming champion didn’t know her history and felt concern for her runner-up, Konawaena’s Kapoina Bailey.
Megan Aina, 2012 Kamehameha graduate, went 8 for 8 in BIIF wrestling and judo with state gold in both sports.
6.) Waiakea girls volleyball
In October, the Warriors outlasted Hilo 20-25, 2-25, 25-20, 26-24, 16-14 for the BIIF Division I title and claim the greatest comeback in league history.
Not only stuck in a 0-2 hole and down late in other sets, the Warriors trailed 10-6 in Game 5, and it looked like curtains for them.
But Kayla Kahauolopua pounded eight of her 34 kills in the last set, and Waiakea pulled out a miracle from a hat buried deep in a coffin.
7.) Waiakea boys basketball
Last season, the Warriors stole the BIIF Division I championship from Konawaena, which was ahead 66-63 with 13 seconds remaining.
Calvin Mattos swished a game-tying 3-pointer from the top of the key. Kiai Apele, then a freshman, shadowed the inbound passer, stole the ball and scored the game-winner, sealed a 68-66 win and Waiakea’s second straight title.
Who saw that one coming? Nobody except a coach’s son, taught well by his dad Randy “Helicopter” Apele, who followed Mattos’ lead: make magic on the court.
8.) Hilo Little League
What’s the most famous youth tournament? That would be the Little World Series, televised on ABC every August to over 2 million from pleasant South Williamsport, Pennsylvania.
The Hilo All-Stars, coached by Baba Lancaster, was two wins away from reaching the World Series and becoming lifetime legends. Only Ewa Beach in 2005 and Waipahu in 2008 are the only Hawaii teams to win the title.
Lancaster’s ballclub became Hilo’s first to capture the Majors (ages 11-12) state championship in 30 years. In the West Region tournament semifinals, Santa Margarita, Calif., eliminated Hilo 12-8.
9.) Hawaii Hammerheads
First, president and coach Kevin Williams couldn’t find a home for Hilo’s first professional or semi-pro basketball organization, failing to find a friend with the ABA, ASEAN, and OBA leagues.
Second, the Hammerheads had push-backs of starting dates, not once or twice but three times, and never issued a press release for any of them. Fans were left in the lurch, like a blind date stuck with the dinner bill.
Third, the Hammerheads had two preseason games in August against a collection of Maui players, including former UH-Hilo fan favorite Scott Prather. Then the Hammerheads were never heard from again for strike three.
10.) Puna’s canoe golds
Once tagged with the reputation for doing more with less, Puna has suddenly become a Moku O Hawaii Outrigger Canoe Racing Association paddling heavyweight.
Last July, coach Afa Tuaolo’s club not only filled all 43 races but blitzed to its third straight Aunty Maile Mauhili/Moku O Hawaii title, after rallying from a 21-point deficit.
To cap its glorious summer, Green Pride also captured the HCRA state championship for the third year in a row, highlighted by nine medals, including gold for the women 50 crew.