Konawaena junior Kapoina Bailey had a breakout season last year on the wrestling mat, but one obstacle always stood in the way.
Bailey lost to Keaau’s Ivory Ayers in the 168-pound weight class final at the BIIF and HHSAA championships.
Ayers graduated, but nothing has changed at Konawaena, where there’s a strict mindset in place under second-year coach Walter Watson.
“There’s always room for improvement. You can always get better as a team and individual,” he said. “It’s all about being confident in yourself, your moves, and conditioning. What we’re teaching is heart and effort.
“Being on the mat is a lot like life. You’ll have your ups and downs. You have to rise up in terms of adversity.”
Watson was talking in general terms, not necessarily about Bailey, on Saturday at the Waiakea preseason meet.
But she’s had her share of second-place frustrations. Bailey was a guard/tackle on the Konawaena football team, which lost to Lahainaluna in seven overtimes for the Division II state title.
During judo season last year, Ayers seized the BIIF crown for 172 pounds, and Bailey was second. At states, Ayers took home gold while Bailey was fourth.
On the wrestling mat, Bailey figures she went 0-6 lifetime against Ayers and came close to winning a few times, but victory slipped away.
“I learned a lot about the mental side, to not doubt myself and be confident,” said Bailey, who was fourth as a freshman. “My goal is to try and win a state title.”
Bailey is from a rugby family. Her dad, James, is from New Zealand, where it’s the unofficial national sport, and her four younger siblings are all into the contact sport.
She played on the junior varsity for football her first two seasons. Bailey thought the gridiron, wrestling, and judo would help her rugby.
Bailey has been playing the family sport since she was 9 years old. She plays for the Kona Bulls and Hilo Reign. She’s hoping to wrestle and play rugby in college.
Her hard work doesn’t go unnoticed among her teammates.
“She’s got a lot of heart,” said senior Jorjah Losalio-Watson, who was third at BIIFs at 138 last season. “She’s always trying to get her teammates better.
“She’s an all-around wrestler. It depends on her opponent. She’ll watch them and take note of them.”
Losalio-Watson’s dad echoed the summary on Bailey.
“Kapoina has a good attitude, she’s a hard worker, she’s humble and gets good grades,” Watson said. “That’s what our coaching staff teaches — always stay humble.”
Call to duty
Konawaena senior Haili Kapela was runner-up last season at the BIIF championships in the 160 class. He and Waiakea senior PJ Matsuura, who was third, figure to be front-runners after the champion graduated.
“He’s so determined and willing to put in the time in the practice room and after practice,” Watson said. “He’s one of the captains, and I tell him being captain is not about having power but being a servant and helping your teammates. If you see something wrong, then correct them.”
Kapela doesn’t play any other sport at Konawaena, where his dad Bodie Paahana wrestled back in the day. He has eight siblings and none wrestle.
“My father wanted to keep that bloodline going, so that’s why I wrestle,” Kapela said. “It’s my last year, so I want to make my mark.”
He gets help from his dad, who parcels out advice and serves as a wrestling partner.
“He took second at 145 pounds at Konawaena,” Kapela said. “He’s strong and beats me up every day. His advice to me was nothing is given on a silver platter.”
PJ Matsuura is named after his uncle Dr. Peter Matsuura, and wrestling is a family sport.
PJ’s dad Andy and uncles Peter, Steve, and David all wrestled. His sister Skye Matsuura, a 2014 Waiakea graduate, wrestled and did judo.
She’s in her last year at Puget Sound. Skye won state judo gold as a senior and pocketed a pair of BIIF silver wrestling medals.
PJ Matsuura, who also played on the football team, won BIIF silver as a sophomore. Unlike his sister, he didn’t take up judo.
“All my uncles did it, and I thought I’d give it a shot,” PJ said. “I just want to give it my all and stay committed and do my best. That’s all I can ask for.”
He took to heart the life lessons former football coach Kalei Young was always preaching — staying humble, appreciating the little things and bonding like a family.
“Coach Kalei brought us together like a family,” PJ said. “He taught us to be humble, and my dad built it up from there.”
He won’t take over for his dad’s company, Pineback Landscaping. PJ is planning to head to Kapiolani Community College on Oahu to become an EMT.
After he graduates, there will be one more Matsuura in the family sport, his sophomore brother Jonah.
Kealakehe wasn’t present at the Waiakea preseason tournament. The boys are the defending BIIF champion while the girls have won the last two titles.
Of the boys 14 weight classes, the Waveriders return eight wrestlers who placed in the top three at BIIFs.
Of the girls 14 classes, Kealakehe returns four wrestlers who won a medal at BIIFs, headlined by two-time champion Roxie Umu at 225.