BIIF tennis: Waiakea freshmen a trio to remember

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Waiakea has three Fab Freshmen in Keilyn Kunimoto, Anna Oda, and Maile Brilhante — all among the top 10 in the Hawaii Pacific section of the United State Tennis Association’s girls 16 singles rankings.

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Waiakea has three Fab Freshmen in Keilyn Kunimoto, Anna Oda, and Maile Brilhante — all among the top 10 in the Hawaii Pacific section of the United State Tennis Association’s girls 16 singles rankings.

Kunimoto is No. 2, Oda at No. 4, and Brilhante at No. 5. The freshmen are playing above their age against the state’s best during the offseason USTA circuit and thriving in BIIF competition as well.

The next highest BIIF player is Kealakehe junior Sara Tsukamoto at 11th. She’s the sister of 2010 Kealakehe graduate Sayo Tsukamoto, who won four BIIF singles championships and the HHSAA state title as a senior.

On a gray and cold Wednesday at Waiakea’s campus courts, where dark clouds sat in the distance, the Warriors made quick work of St. Joseph, winning 5-0 and not dropping a set in three doubles matches.

In first doubles, Brilhante/Oda defeated Streisand Galdones/Mackenzie Handy, 6-0, 6-0.

In the second doubles, Kunimoto/Chloe Teramoto def. Mone Kudo/Jaina Galves, 6-0, 6-0.

In third doubles, Kiani Nishimoto/Miya Yanagisawa def. Kauionalani Serro/Jennie Xu, 6-0, 6-0.

For the boys, Waiakea blanked St. Joe 5-0.

Like the girls matches, there were no singles players for the Cardinals, who defaulted the two singles matches.

In first doubles, Lucas Chun/Brennan Yamamoto def. Keahi Costa/Hopena Paekukui, 6-0, 6-0.

In second doubles, Wes Amuimuia/Treyson Ishimoto def. Mark Nemeth/Six Pei, 6-0, 6-1.

In third doubles, Koby Kosaki/Colby Kudo def. Daniel Honda/Shu Fuji, 6-0, 6-0.

Kunimoto, Oda, and Brilhante are high achievers in the classroom with grade point averages of 4.0, 3.8, and 4.0, respectively, and come from strong athletic backgrounds.

Keilyn is the niece of UH-Hilo Hall of Famer Randy Kunimoto. Anna is the sister of Dani Oda, a Waiakea senior on the basketball team. Maile is the sister of Isaiah Brilhante, a 2013 Waiakea graduate, who won the BIIF singles title his senior year.

The Konawaena girls are the two-time defending BIIF champions while the Wildcat boys won the league title last season, their first since 2000. Hilo junior Gil Assi is the defending boys champ while 2016 Hilo graduate Emily Soares pocketed the girls singles title last season.

Ask any of the Fab Freshmen a goal for the season, and they all answer in unison: “Win BIIFs all four years.”

The Warriors last won the BIIF girls team title in 2011, the freshman season of Sarah Dvorak, a junior at Texas Tech, who was on the All-Big 12 first team as a freshman and second team as a sophomore.

Waiakea coach Bill Brilhante, the dad of Maile and Isaiah, gave a scouting report on his three standout Warriors.

“Keilyn is very consistent and mentally strong. She’ll approach a match like chess and figure out a way to win,” he said. “Anna is aggressive and has a big forehand. She’s active at the net and plays doubles very well. She and Maile have a calmness with each other. Maile is the same way. She’s very aggressive and plays at the net very well.”

Teramoto, who’s ranked 53rd in the USTA 16 singles, is another freshman on a youthful 13-player Waiakea squad, and plays No. 2 singles. There are only four seniors in Nishimoto, Kiana Anderson, Kylie Nakano, and Caitlin Tsuchiya.

No BIIF team has ever won a HHSAA team championship. But the Warriors have a lot of young, promising players who’ll push each other for playing time. There are two singles and three doubles, so eight players start.

Both Kunimoto and Oda attend Randy Kunimoto’s tennis school and are instructors as well. Maile Brilhante has her own personal coach in her dad and can always hit up her brother for tips.

Oda and Brilhante enjoy playing doubles because they not only have a similar style but also share the same wavelength.

“We pump each other up,” Brilhante said. “In singles, you have to take all the shots by yourself.”

“It’s a lot more fun than singles,” said Oda, who tried to shadow her sister in hoops. “I tried basketball when I was 5 years old, but I didn’t like it.”

Even Kunimoto had a blast playing with Teramoto in her BIIF doubles debut. But she’ll be counted on to score points in singles.

Maybe she matches Sayo Tsukamoto one day or Soares, playing at the University of Portland, who won a BIIF singles crown every year except 2014 when she captured doubles with sister Kelly.

“I liked doubles,” Kunimoto said. “It was more of a great setting than being an individual in singles.”

On the USTA circuit, rankings are important because top players establish themselves and college coaches take notice.

But nothing beats being teammates, instead of competitors, while chasing BIIF glory together, at least for the team-oriented Warriors.

“We all get along well, and everybody is close,” Oda said of the entire squad.

Waiakea coach Brilhante added another point: the best memories for youngsters are formed in high school and nothing beats that.

“College coaches look at the USTA results more closely than high school,” he said. “But on the local level, it so important because the results are in the newspapers and in the news. It’s prominent in high school because it’s in the public eye.”

Isaiah Brilhante spent three years falling short of a BIIF championship, until his senior year. But his dad has a bright smile when noting that his son will graduate from Cornell in May with a biology degree.

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“The team’s cumulative GPA is 3.4 and of the six freshmen three have 4.0 GPAs,” Brilhante said. “That speaks to the caliber of people we have. That’s what I’m most proud of.

“They’re all nice kids and work hard on the court and in the classroom. They all get along well. It makes my job really easy.”

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