Judo: Waiakea’s LiAnn Yamamoto, Konawaena’s Bailey claim state gold

  • Kapoina Bailey.
  • Waiakea senior LiAnn Yamamoto won the 109-pound judo state title while her teammate and sister, sophomore Samantha Yamamoto, took third place in the 98 class.

LiAnn Yamamoto could hear her Waiakea teammates cheering her, filling her with additional ammunition. Her mind was clear and her body relaxed and ready to apply any judo technique necessary. The gold medal was finally within reach.

She grabbed it and didn’t let go, and the feelings of frustration soared away like an eagle at the HHSAA state judo championships on Saturday at the Stan Sheriff Center, where Yamamoto was crowned as the 109-pound champion.


The best sports stories are underdog stories, like Rocky and Rudy of Notre Dame fame. Throw Yamamoto in there, too. But first, here’s the lowdown on her golden achievement.

As the No. 3 seed, Yamamoto beat Pearl City No. 1 seed Kayla Odo by yuko or a score less than a waza-ari (near ippon or half point).

The Warrior senior didn’t have an easy road to her first state title. She had to take down the best in her weight class. Yamamoto also beat Iolani No. 2 seed Kari Tanji by yuko in the semifinals, Moanalua’s Jena Agena by ippon in the quarterfinals and Campbell’s Malia Martin by ippon in the first round.

Yamamoto was one of two BIIF judoka to bring home state gold. The other was Konawaena junior and No. 1 seed Kapoina Bailey, who defeated Moanalua No. 2 seed Alana Dela Pena by ippon for the 172 crown. Bailey capped a double gold year; she also won the 168-pound state wrestling title in February.

Like Yamamoto, Bailey had to beat the best in her weight division, so her second gold was far from a red-carpet ride. Bailey got an ippon over McKinley’s unseeded Anelalani Chavez in the quarterfinals and drew a bye in the first round.

Out of the 20 weight divisions, there were only four No. 1 vs. No. 2 seed matchups: girls 122, 139, and 172 and boys 220. Bailey and Mililani’s Mayu Wise, at 122, were the only top seeds to prevail for a .500 batting average.

Bailey immediately shined the spotlight of gold on others.

“I couldn’t have done it without my coaches, head coach Rodney Blanco, coach Justin Raymond, coach Chad Fujiyoshi, and coach Gordon Carvalho. They all helped me a lot,” she said. “Honestly, our practices were pretty tough but because my teammates pushed themselves it made me want to push more and all our hard work did show.

“There were so many times we had injuries that we had to suck it up. Our motto is ‘Do you need a straw … so you can suck it up.’ I learned that it’s not an easy road. You have to work hard and always take it match by match.”

Branco doubled down on what Bailey is all about.

“Ina is a team captain and one of the hardest workers I’ve ever had. She is a multi-sport athlete, football, rugby, wrestling state champion and judo,” said Branco, who then shifted gears. “She is one of the sweetest kids you could ever be around. She has a huge heart and is always there for her teammates. She deserves all the awesome things that come her way.”

Through her first three years, Yamamoto was a regular in the state semifinals but couldn’t get past that speed bump. As a junior and freshman, she lost to the eventual state champion. The last two seasons, she took third and sixth as a freshman.

Being a four-time BIIF champion is an impressive achievement, but state gold is reserved for the hungriest lions. And Yamamoto entered states with an empty stomach and a confident outlook.

“I’m really happy to pull through my senior year,” she said. “I was pretty confident, remained calm, and tried my best and had fun. The final was exciting. The team was cheering, and I could hear them. It was really exciting.”

Feeling light as a bird, Yamamoto turned her thoughts to her sister Samantha Yamamoto, who placed second at 98 pounds last year.

In the girls 98-pound semifinals, Moanalua’s Jazmin Lazo upset Waiakea No. 2 seed and sophomore Samantha Yamamoto, who later grabbed bronze.

“I’m still proud of her, even though she lost her match,” said LiAnn Yamamoto, who has served as a role model and constant cheerleader. “She still has two more years.”

Samantha Yamamoto is just like her sister. She thinks like a hungry lion and, more importantly, about others.

“I’m happy I came back to take third,” Samantha said. “It’s really hard to come back after losing. I’m so happy for LiAnn to place first in her senior year.”

In the 115 semifinals, Moanalua No. 1 seed Amanda Higa defeated Waiakea junior Raelyn Ai-Yoneda by ippon. Ai-Yoneda is a three-time BIIF champion and took fifth.

For the boys, Waiakea freshman Aden Leyson was the only BIIF judoka to advance to the finals, in the 98-pound class. Moanalua’s Keane Escaba defeated Leyson by yuko.

Leyson, the BIIF champion, defeated Pearl City’s Brennan Larita in the semifinals, Moanalua’s Dayne Takai in quarterfinals and University’s Micah Tengan in the first round. None of them were seeded.

In the boys 114 class semifinals, Moanalua No. 1 seed McCade Ho scored an ippon over Waiakea’s Brayden Spain, and Mililani’s Mitchell Funaki got an ippon over Waiakea No. 2 seed Kolby Namnama, who got third; Spain was fourth.

In the 161 semifinals, Kapolei No. 3 seed scored an ippon over Waiakea’s Anson Spain.

In the 285 semifinals, McKinley’s Ezekiel Samuelu had an ippon against Konawaena No. 2 seed and freshman Hailama Anakalea, who claimed bronze.

Other BIIF top-six placers were Seth Wilson, Hilo, third, 121; Mason Morimoto, Waiakea, 145, sixth; Anson Spain, Waiakea, 161, sixth; girls, Dana Sugai, Konawaena, 154, third; Jaye Lee-Kaiwi, Keaau, 172, sixth.


Division I

• Iolani def. Kealakehe 25-18, 25-22: Isaiah Hooper smashed seven kills, and Anthony “Head” Trevino added six kills for the BIIF champion Waveriders (14-4) in the third-place match at Neal Blaisdell Arena.

Ryan Van Cantfort had 15 kills to lead the ILH runner-up Raiders (11-3).

Division II

• Hawaii Prep def. Kalani 21-25, 25-20, 15-10: Kala Thurston had a monster day with 14 kills on 28 swings with a .429 hitting clip and 10 digs for a double-double in the fifth-place match.

Zach Chaikin added seven kills while libero Ryoma Sakakibara had 12 digs and Kamuela Lindsey collected nine digs for the BIIF champion Ka Makani (10-9).

Seth Tina had 12 kills for the Falcons (8-8), the OIA runner-up.

Water polo

• Baldwin def. Kamehameha 8-2: The No. 2 seed Bears and MIL champions ran past the No. 2 seed Warriors (15-2) in the third-place match at Kamehameha-Kapalama’s aquatic center.

Lahela Rosario and Emma Kanoa scored for Kamehameha.

Rebecca Gallimore scored three goals to spark the Bears.


All of the BIIF’s top contenders got knocked out in the semifinals on Friday at Central Oahu Regional Park.

In boys singles, No. 1 seed Phuc Huynh of Iolani thumped No. 6 and Hilo senior Gil Assi 6-3, 6-1. Earlier in the quarterfinals, Assi upset No. 3 seed and Hawaii Prep junior Ryo Minakata 7-5, 7-5. In the previous three matchups, Minakata won easily.

In girls singles, No. 1 seed Alysia Fossorier of Punahou defeated No. 3 seed and Konawaena senior Tayvia Yamagata 7-5, 6-3 while No. 2 seed Katreina Corpuz of Punahou beat No. 4 seed and Waiakea sophomore Maike Brilhante 6-3, 6-3.

No BIIF doubles teams advanced to the semifinals.


In the boys doubles quarterfinals, No. 4 seed Sean Yamamoto/Scott Yamamoto of Iolani defeated Hilo No. 7 seed Li Aki/Zachary Kamiyama 6-0, 6-2.

In girls doubles quarterfinals, No. 7 seed Sabrina Loui/Gabriela Siaosi of Iolani topped Waiakea No. 2 seed Alicia Chun/Keilyn Kunimoto 6-4, 6-2.

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