Hawaii Prep’s Maile Lawson arrived on the BIIF swimming scene with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer.
From her first meet as a freshman, it seemed only a matter of time until she ruled the breaststroke at the HHSAA championships. When, after consecutive runner-up finishes in her first two tries, she pulled through last season it ended a four-year state gold drought for BIIF swimmers.
Lawson went out and reached the top of the podium again last weekend, and that she had company from fellow a Big Islander was the result of a much more gradual process.
Waiakea senior Mina Poppas said Saturday at Central Oahu Regional Park was dizzying haze of events, but her ascent has been steady.
“Becoming a state champion has really reconfirmed in me that you can do anything you can set your mind to,” said Poppas, who won the 200-yard freestyle with a personal-best 1 minute, 51.73 seconds. “I know that it’s such a cliche, but three years ago I never would have imagined winning first.
“It’s all about the day-by-day process and learning to enjoy the process of becoming better and working hard.”
Lawson and Poppas give the BIIF two golds at states for the first time since Kealakehe senior Cara Jernigan claimed the breaststroke and 200 individual medley in 2014, and the league hadn’t had two different winners since Jernigan (breaststroke) and Hawaii Prep’s Anu Nihipali (backstroke) won titles in 2013.
Meanwhile, the state-record 1:02.41 that Jernigan swam in the breaststroke at Kamehameha’s Naeole Pool in 2014 still stands after somehow surviving Lawson’s assault.
She came close last year on Maui, reaching 1:02.51, and Saturday she won with a time of 1:03.89 after out-touching Kamehameha-Kapalama’s Jamy Lum by 19 one-hundredths of a second at the wall, jamming her fingers and bruising her hand in the process in order to seal victory on the final stroke.
“On the third turn I noticed that she was a little in front of me so I just told myself not to give up,” Lawson told West Hawaii Today. “As I approached the wall I wasn’t sure if I was too short or too long so I took a chance and put my head down. I jammed my fingers but it was a fun race until the last second.”
Poppas, a top seed like Lawson, almost had as close a call in the 200, edging Maui’s Jordynn Brown by a quarter of a second.
“The 200 was a complete blur,” she said. “I remember seeing (Brown) on the first 50 and seeing her ahead of me and telling myself I had to push and then from there I just remember swimming as hard as I could to the wall.”
Poppas said her fourth-place finish in the 500 free was probably the funnest race she’s ever competed in because she went out against against two of her best friends.
And she was fast. Her time of 5:00.96 not was only a personal-best but it would have clipped a few seconds off the 11-year-old BIIF record if she could have managed it a two weeks earlier at the league championships.
The seeds held in the 200 IM, with University double gold medalist Grace Moynahan (2:02.42) finishing first and Waiakea sophomore Korrie Tengan (2:07.15) and Lawson (2:08.71) claiming silver and bronze, respectively. Lawson was second in the event in 2018.
“Korrie did everything she could,” Waiakea coach Bill Sakovich said, “Grace is just a super swimmer.”
Tengan, who swam in four finals, was fifth in backstroke to help the Warriors finish fifth in the girls team race, three spots above HPA. Kealakehe was 10th.
Lawson also helped Ka Makani get points by contributing to a fifth-place finish in the 400 free style relay. Kealakehe’s Shea Tsuha took fifth in the breaststroke and was a part of relay teams that were fourth in the 200 free and fifth in the 200 medley relay.
Lawson’s BIIF resume includes 13 golds, two silvers and a bronze for her 16 events (eight individual, eight relays), and at states she owns two golds, three silvers and bronze in individual events.
“I am so happy with everything that I have accomplished,” Lawson told West Hawaii. “My times were always a little off for high school because I was tapering for age group, but it was about competing for the school. It was a great experience and I am really honored to compete for Hawaii Prep and for Coach Mark (Noetzel).”
The other top-three finish for a Big Islander came from Hilo junior Sydney Patterson, who claimed bronze in her first season of 1-meter diving.
On the boys side, the only point-scorer was Hawaii Prep junior Brock Imonen, who was fifth in the 500.
A Big Island boy hasn’t struck swimming gold at states since HPA won the state title behind Logan Borowski, Kaikea Nakachi, Kyle Katase and Ryan Ross in 2011.
Also advancing to the finals from the BIIF were: HPA’s Kaden Parker (50 free, seventh; 100 free, seventh); Kealakehe’s Weylin Foo (butterfly, sixth); Tsuha (50 free, seventh); Kamehameha girls 200 freestyle team was sixth, as was Waiakea’s girls 400 relay squad; HPA’s boys 20o free team was seventh; and in the girls medley relay, HPA was seventh and Waiakea eighth.
Poppas won’t remember the day for the finishes nor the times.
“This meet seemed to finish the quickest,” she said. “It was a blur of events and through everything I just remember the smiles, hugs and laughs shared between all of my friends that I’ve been competing for many years.”