BIIF tennis: Waiakea girls unmatched; HPA boys edge Hilo

  • RICK WINTERS/West Hawaii Today
    Hawaii Prep's David Welch-Keliihoomalu returns a forehand shot over the net. Welch-Keliihoomalu won his No. 1 singles match with Hilo's Cole Gardner in the title match of the BIIF team championships at the Holua Tennis Center on Saturday.
  • RICK WINTERS/West Hawaii Today
    Waiakea's Maile Brilhante returns a forehand shot during her No. 2 doubles match against Hilo during the BIIF team championships on Saturday at the Holua Tennis Center.

KEAUHOU — When it comes to BIIF postseason play, strategy and a pinch of luck are usually the key ingredients in claiming a team tennis championship.

The reason for this is simple. In high school tennis, teams are allowed to move any player anywhere in the line. This means a coach can take their best No. 1 singles player and play them in the second singles slot or even pair them with another player to complete in one of the three doubles matches.

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The coach that can out-think, out-maneuver or just out-guess his opponent will usually lead a team to victory.

Playing at the Holua Tennis Center in Keauhou on Saturday, the Waiakea girls and the Hawaii Prep boys proved to have the best strategy and skill to claim team titles.

For Waiakea, this is the second championship in a row after the team once again cruised through the regular season undefeated. The team did not run into much trouble during the team championships either. The Warriors defeated Hawaii Prep in the semifinals 5-0 and then swept Hilo in the championship match.

“It is really about the luck of the draw and how you set the matches up on the match draw sheet,” said Waiakea head coach Bill Brilhante. “In the semifinals we had a hunch that HPA was going to move their players around because we felt they did not have the firepower to match us straight up. We anticipated what they would do and we were lucky that it ended up going the way we wanted.”

Hawaii Prep coach Jeff Lewis knew his team was in trouble once the match sheet was set.

“I was hoping we could pull out something against Waiakea but the lineup went as bad as it could possibly go for us,” Lewis said. “It would have been tough either way against a tough team like that, but the nature of this tournament is that coaches can put their players anywhere they want, so it is always a guessing game.”

In the championship match, the Warriors did not let off the throttle, and they were aided by a default on Hilo in the No. 2 singles slot. Given the edge of a 1-0 lead at the start, Waiakea swept every match in two sets.

“We have a deep team and that is what you really need to have for this style of tournament,” Brilhante said. “Entering this tournament, the girls had a goal of finishing the season with an unblemished record and they are almost there. Everyone stepped up today.”

It was not completely smooth sailing for the Warriors, who had to compete on Saturday without Alicia Chun, a member of their No. 1 doubles tandem with Keilyn Kunimoto, who was on Oahu for a school event.

To fill the void, Brilhante dropped his No. 2 singles player, Maya Atwal, to doubles to play with Kunimoto — and the pair went on to win their No. 2 doubles match against Hilo’s Jade Rivera and Alyssa Okamura in straight sets 6-0, 6-0.

“The goal was to win at least three matches and we wanted to keep that team strong,” Brilhante said. “It worked out really well.”

Playing out of the No. 1 singles slot for Waiakea was Kristen Ends, who defeated Hilo’s Kaimana Reyes 6-1, 6-0. Meghan Nagai picked up the default victory in the No. 2 singles slot.

Chloe Teramoto and Miya Yanagisawa won their No. 3 doubles match for Waiakea, defeating the Vikings’ Samantha Chung and Jennifer Kamimura 6-0, 6-1.

The final match to finish in the title tilt was the most competitive and featured both No. 1 singles players from Hilo and Waiakea. For the Warriors, Maile Brilhante teamed with freshman Jade Ishimine to defeat the Vikings pairing of Casydee DeMattos and Riza Mae Rabanzo 7-5, 6-0.

“I knew going in it was going to be a close match because we were playing Casydee and she is their No. 1 singles player,” said Maile Brilhante, who is no stranger to doubles play while competing in USTA tournaments throughout the year. “I just wanted this to be fun for Jade and I, and it was.”

HPA edges Hilo for title

While the Hawaii Prep girls may have fallen a little short of the championship match, Ka Makani’s boys team was in for a thrill ride.

Hawaii Prep may have been seen as the underdog after losing to Hilo earlier in the season, but coach Jeff Lewis knew that he had not used his strongest lineup. During the championships match at Holua, he had a chance to do that and the result was what he was hoping for, a narrow 3-2 victory over the Vikings, who had to settle for a pair of second place finishes on the day.

“The boys were expected to do well and they were all good, close matches,” Lewis said. “The boys were able to beat Konawaena pretty convincingly in the semifinals and they used our decision making as a way to come together as a team.”

Ka Makani was led by Ryo Minakata. With the shuffling of the lineups, Minakata, one of the best players in the state, played out of the No. 2 singles slot and rolled through Hilo’s Elisha Watkins 6-0, 6-0.

One of Minakata’s main rivals in the BIIF the past two seasons, Hilo’s Gil Assi, played in the No. 1 doubles slot with Li Aki and the pair defeated the Hawaii Prep team of Andy Lee and Ethan James 6-0, 6-0 to tie the match.

Ka Makani and the Vikings also split matches at No. 2 and No. 3 doubles. Hawaii Prep picked up the victory in the second doubles slot when the team of Hayden Virtue and Ethan Goore beat Brad Nakamura and Zachary Kamiyama 7-5, 6-3. The Hilo tandem of Luke Hamano and Ryan Liu defeated Ka Makani’s Zane Willman and Rex Lin 6-0, 6-0 in the third slot.

The match then came down to the No. 1 singles match, where Hawaii Prep’s David Welch-Keliihoomalu could feel the pressure mounting as he tried to put away Hilo’s Cole Gardner. Welch-Keliihoomalu went down early as he attempted to force winner after winner, but he finally settled down to take the first set 6-4.

“I was really nervous early on but I was able to put it together thanks to the support of my teammates, who told me to take deep breaths to help me stay calm,” Welch-Keliihoomalu said. “In my side view, I could tell that the match was coming down to me because I started seeing people walking to the hill to watch me. I then started to hear more and more yelling, and the match got more intense.”

Welch-Keliihoomalu, who had not played a singles match this season, managed to keep it together and played better in the second set thanks to some of the advice and techniques he was taught by Minakata.

“Ryo helped me prepare for my singles matches and I was able to use his techniques for hitting the ball back consistently,” Welch-Keliihoomalu said. “At the end of the first set I had figured out my strategy of how to beat (Gardner) and I was able to pull through.”

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Welch-Keliihoomalu put away his Hilo opponent in the second set 6-2 to claim the team title for Hawaii Prep.

“When it was over I just felt all the stress go away. I was really relieved that I won,” Welch-Keliihoomalu said. “Everyone ran to me and they were chanting my name and I just felt really happy in that moment.”