BIIF air riflery: Waiakea dominance faces stiff challenges
It’s only practice on a Monday night, but in some ways it counts for Waiakea’s shooters.
The results have been tabulated: The boys 1,000, the girls 1,020.
“That’s more motivation,” Guy Yokoe said of a friendly rivalry he and Tre Soultz share with fellow co-captain Lisa Ishimoto. “One night the girls might get us by 20 points and we’re like, ‘OK, OK,’ and the next night we’ll beat them by 10 or 20.”
Practice has long been where the Warriors find their best competition in Big Island Interscholastic Federation air riflery, but they were outshot in at least one aspect last season. Kamehameha’s Kealapua Bernabe — to the surprise of nobody who should now — claimed the girls title and returns for her senior year.
Waiakea has built itself into one of the preeminent programs in the state the past four seasons, winning Hawaii High School Athletic Association team titles in 2010 (boys) and 2012 (boys and girls), and producing a pair of individual champions, Kellie Iwasaki (2011) and Justin Gray (2013).
But this is the beginning of a new era, and the operative term around Waiakea’s camp is “filling in.” And some big shoes graduated last season.
“We lost a lot of good shooters, and we need to replenish that,” said Soultz, a junior. “It motivates me to be better.”
That’s especially true on the boys side, where Waiakea features its trademark depth, but not much experience. Yokoe, a junior, is the sole Waiakea returnee who shot at states last season, finishing 21st of 42 competitors, while Soultz is the only other Warrior who competed at BIIFs.
That did little to slow Waiakea down at the BIIF opener last Saturday: Yokoe (257), Soultz (253) and Waiakea senior Trent Taniguchi (252) led the way.
“My freshman and sophomore year I was trying to be better and compete with the upperclassmen,” Yokoe said. “Making it to states and realizing I could compete, it was a confidence-booster and a motivation-booster, because I knew I could push and be at the same level as them.”
Two other Waiakea juniors, Bryson Nakao and Dillon-Jon Gabriel, also finished in the top 10, as did sophomore Bradon Miyatake.
Waiakea coach Mel Kawahara takes comfort in the fact Waiakea is junior-heavy, noting all three of the Warriors’ state championship teams were powered by 11th-graders.
“But it’s tough to maintain as a senior,” Kawahara said. “I don’t know how (Justin Gray) did it last year. Determination on his part.”
Kawahara takes a do-what-I-say, not-what-I-do approach. He’s never shot a gun.
“Anybody here, the worst shooter is better than me, ” he said as he watched Waiakea clean up after practice. “I’m here to manage.”
But he held an air riflery camp for all-comers in the spring, and was impressed by the competition, namely Hilo’s Wyatt Wilson and Kamehameha’s Logan Aruga and Taylor Au. Aruga (264) and Wilson (262) took the top two spots in a preseason meet.
Two of Konawaena’s best hopefuls this season are Mikhail Watkins (fifth in the opener) and Weston Downs (11th).
Kamehameha coach George Van Gieson calls Aruga his steadiest marksmen, but Au recently has soared in practice and posted scores hovering near 280.
“He came out of nowhere,” Van Gieson said.
The same can’t be said of Bernabe, a consistent shooter who Van Gieson called a “coach’s dream.”
“Nothing shakes her,” he said. “When she makes up her mind to shoot well, she will. A low-maintenance shoot, no drama.”
He said Bernabe and senior Jessie Coney share a synergy while shooting that he’s also noticed in freshmen Iceley Andaya and Cobi Broad.
At the BIIF opener, Waiakea swept the top three spots: Amber Nagata (262), Jamie Ikeda (256) and Maileen Nakashima, followed by Bernabe and Coney.
If Kamehameha is going to make a run at Waiakea for the team title, it also has two more seniors to rely on in Kalei Lee and Hannah Pavao.
The top four shooters count toward a team’s score, and at Waiakea the race is fierce between six competitors, all of whom finished in the top 10 at the opener. Ikeda and Nakashima shot at states last season, and Ishimoto and Allena Shimabukuro are also experienced seniors. Nagata is a junior and Tiara Pacheco is a sophomore.
“I feel the competition and I’m sure the other girls do,” Ishimoto said. “We all want to shoot on our team, but in the end I’m concerned with making sure the best four are out there.”
She savors her captaincy as the best leadership experience in her life, even more so than her role in the Waiakea student government.
“I think even if I’m hurting I can encourage the other shooters,” she said. “I have to remember not to care only about myself.”
The only non-Warrior to finish among the top-10 girls was Christian Liberty’s Janae Pacheco in ninth.
As always, Kawahara said Waiakea is boosted by strong parental support. At Kamehameha, Van Gieson has seen more involvement from parents, which means he’s working more with middle-schoolers than ever before.
“Usually, we can’t get a gun into a kid’s hand until the ninth grade,” he said. “Of course, that’s not always a bad thing.”
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