Hawaii Preparatory Academy was a rising power last season and has unfinished business to take care of this year.
In the BIIF season-opener on Saturday at windy Hilo Bayfront, Ka Makani boys crew made smooth sailing over choppy water to claim the half-mile event in 4:04.61, far ahead of runner-up Kamehameha’s 4:16.71.
Last season, HPA had a late stumble and finished second to Waiakea at the BIIF championships and reached the HHSAA final eight-crew field but drew a disqualification.
“We’ve got a lot of returnees,” HPA coach Mesepa Tanoai said. “I knew we’d be fast this year.”
Jake Honl-Deguiar, Hunter Ellis, Kala Thurston, and Ford Stallsmith are returning starters while Bennet Varney and Sheldon Aribal round out the crew.
Keaau defended its girls and mixed BIIF titles to score a double gold on the day and establish itself as a strong contender for the championship mix.
The mixed crew got beat out of the turn but had a tremendous late charge at the end to finish in 4:24.53, just ahead of Konawaena’s 4:27.09.
The Cougars have won at least one BIIF title for the last six years. Konawaena holds the league record with eight straight, a streak that ended in 2010.
All of the BIIF schools competed except for Kealakehe, which had its Winter Ball later on Saturday night.
“It was windy and a challenge,” Tanoai said. “The boys stayed together, and they were solid with the wind.”
Senior stroker Honl-Deguiar and Ellis were on the Na Kona team, coached by Tanoai, that competed in the Molokai Hoe for the second consecutive summer.
The crew also included paddlers from Parker, Konawaena, and Kealakehe.
“Last year, it was Jake’s first time as a stroker, and he’s getting better and better,” Tanoai said. “It’s his senior year, and this is his year to make it happen. Hunter is one of his buddies. That’s one of the best things when you paddle with a friend. He’s a solid paddler.”
It’s likely that the league will not produce a BIIF medal sweep by one school for the 19th straight year. The competition looks pretty balanced.
“The competition is solid,” Tanoai said. “We’ve got over 50 kids. Next week, some of the kids go on vacation and won’t be at the Kona regatta. We’ll be able to get more kids in. We’ll be growing the underclassmen. They’re the future of the team.”
The Cougars graduated their anchors May Ann Tadeo, a steersman, and Skyden Fukunaga, a stroker. But the dominance continues. Lori Aiu filled in as the mixed crew stroker and led the late kick at the end.
“It was a good place for us at his point in the season,” Keaau coach Grant Kaaua said. “Kiani Vallente has been by default our JV steersman. She’s one year younger than May and had to wait her turn. But she’s ready, and we just have to knock off the rust.”
Last year, the state regatta was held at Hilo Bay, and Keaau finished seventh in the girls race and third in the mixed.
Kaaua pointed out that the open audition for starting jobs keeps the paddlers hungry, and everything starts from the dominant girls crew, which plugs in new paddlers and keeps winning.
“The girls have that work ethic, and they’re the heart of the team,” he said.
1. Hawaii Prep (Ford Stallsmith, Bennett Varney, Kala Thurston, Hunter Ellis, Sheldon Aribal, Jake Honl-Deguiar), 4:04.61; 2. Kamehameha, 4:16.71; 3. Parker, 4:18.81; 4. Waiakea, 4:21.26; 5. Keaau, 4:23.94; 5. Konawaena, 4:34.59; 6. Hilo, 4:39.11.
1. Keaau (Hunter Prieto, Tiara Halama, Makalei Watson, Liana Prudholm, Kyla Fabiani, Kiana Vallente), 4:53.19; 2. Konawaena, 4:58.47; 3. Parker, 5:07.61; 4. Kamehameha, 5:10.87; 5. Ehunui, 5:13.86; 6. Waiakea, 5:21.59; 7. HPA, 5:42.63; 8. Pahoa, 5:44.23.
1. Keaau (Lori Aiu, Julian Perreira, Taylor Andrews, Keao Kiyuna, Kyla Fabiani, Kiana Vallente), 4:24.53; 2. Konawaena, 4:27. 09 ; 3. Parker, 4:33.57 ; 4. Kamehameha, 4:37.33; 5. HPA, 4:41.94; 6. Waiakea, 4:4347; 7. Pahoa, 4:55.05; 8. Hilo 5:03.29.
1. Kamehameha, 1:56.51; 2. HPA, 1:56.96; 3. Keaau, 1:59.21; 4. Hilo, 2:13.27.
1. Parker, 2:21.89; 2. HPA, 2:23.53; 3. Keaau, 2:23.90; 4. Kamehameha, 2:40.86.
1. Kamehameha, 2:07.21; Keaau, 2:09.29; 3. Ehunui, 2:11.21; 4. HPA, 2:11.63; 5. Parker, 2:12.64; 6 Konawaena, 2:16.24; 7. Hilo, 2:18.22; 8. Waiakea, 2:19.00; 9. Pahoa, 2:25.70