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Nalani Kirkman earns scholarship to compete for one of the nation’s top college wrestling programs

By BY WALTER CHIHARA - | Jan 15, 2021

LAHAINA — There is a shining light here on the West Side amidst the dark cloud that is the struggle to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic here on Maui. As the state Department of Education and the Hawaii High School Athletic Association continue to balance the welfare of the general population, the quandary of sports competition and pandemic protocols remains in a depressing state of limbo.

In particular, high school student-athletes across the board — most especially the seniors of the 2020-21 class — have been denied the opportunity to compete for the final time for their alma maters. The fall and winter sports, headlined by football, basketball and wrestling, have all been put on hold.

The HHSAA has cancelled the March state tournaments, and the Oahu Interscholastic League, the largest public school athletic organization in the state, has cancelled or postponed most fall and winter sports.

Yet there are still examples of determination amongst the current senior class that exemplify the true grit spirit of Maui-grown teenagers.

Nalani Kirkman, 17, is a Lahainaluna High School senior who has competed for the Lahaina Roughnecks and Lunas wrestling programs since the sixth grade, as well as several events for the track and field team.

Mentored by longtime Lahaina coaches Todd Hayase and Conrad Bolor, Kirkman, a Lahainaluna honor student who will graduate with a 3.6 grade point average, had steadily risen in the Maui Interscholastic League wrestling ranks over the last four years.

She was poised for her senior season after a runner-up finish in her sophomore season and a MIL championship last year.

But with the pandemic came the postponement of this year’s season and the disappointment of a lost opportunity to earn a place on the Luna wrestling honor wall on campus.

However, if there is one thing that characterizes Lahainaluna student-athletes in general and Nalani Kirkman in particular, it is an unwavering perseverance to stay on track to attain personal and team goals.

In this light, Kirkman approached Menlo College wrestling coach Joey Bareng at last year’s state tournament and inquired about the Division II program that just happens to be located in her family home town in Atherton, California, near the Bay Area.

The contact was established, and Nalani sent videos and background information to the Menlo coach who leads one of the top college wrestling programs in the nation.

The Oaks wrestling coaching staff was impressed enough to offer Kirkman a scholarship to attend the college this fall. She plans to study psychology and kinesiology with hopes for a career in sports management and psychology.

Nalani gives credit to her parents, Kimo Kirkman and Steffani Baku Kirkman, and to coaches Hayase and Bolor for her successes in life.

“My parents helped me with everything and basically molded me into who I am in life. They gave me discipline, and it’s just crazy to think of what they’ve done for me. All of my coaches as well have pushed me to succeed,” she said.

Coach Todd returned the acknowledgement in saying, “My heart goes out to our team — especially the seniors — after the cancellation of the season. We were all looking forward to this season, and especially watching Nalani prepare for the season.

“I think we would have seen a more focused, confident and intense wrestler. Her ultimate goal of getting her name on our wall won’t happen due to COVID-19, but the lessons learned through wrestling over the years will last a lifetime.”