LAHAINA - The determination that fuels every high school wrestler is unmistakable, and that relentless drive is no more evident than at Lahainaluna, where championship banners and state placement boards fill the Jimmie H. Greig Gymnasium on the historic campus.
It all began almost 30 years ago when Neal Nakata took over the Luna wrestling program and was joined soon thereafter by Kim Ball. Although from diverse backgrounds - Nakata the Lahaina boy contrasted by Ball, the Mainland Midwesterner - they were kindred spirits in this most basic manifestation of human competition.
Inspired by their leadership in that time frame, Luna wrestling ascended to the top of the Maui Interscholastic League and to the highest rungs of the Hawaii High School Athletic Association ladder.
The wrestling teams have fared well at two preseason events.
So, long before MMA and the UFC popularized the fight games, Luna wrestling was raging, and the core coaching staff at Lahainaluna kicked it up a notch as Todd Hayase, a former Baldwin High School and Linfield College wrestler and currently a counselor at Lahaina Intermediate School, became the head coach. Lahaina good humor man Conrad Bolor also joined the staff, and the technical expertise of Shane Cunanan - an NCAA champion from West Virginia and now a teacher at LIS - later added quality to the leadership in the Lahainaluna Wrestling Room.
Throw Zane Monteleone, Nick Nakata, Lindsay Ball and Shane Tateyama into the coaching mix, and the success meter of the program rises to levels that other schools can only look to the heavens and dream about. The eight straight boys and four consecutive girls MIL titles have the rest of the league seeing Luna red, and at the state level, both Lahainaluna teams have paid the championship podium an annual visit for three straight years.
However, neither team has been able to reach the top of that podium, with the boys taking third and the girls finishing second in recent years.
Coach Todd is looking for that to change in the 2013-14 season.
"We've got a small team in numbers this year, but the quality is definitely up," Hayase explained after practice last week. "We had squads of 65-70 in the past, but this year we're down to 45. But there are a bunch of freshmen wrestlers that have experience in the youth programs that are coming on strong for us. The boys and the girls will compete for the state title - we need to stay focused, work hard and improve every day. The state titles are within our reach, definitely."
Leading the Lahainaluna charge toward the girls' MIL and state titles will be defending MIL and state champions Kapu Jaramillo and Lalelei Mataafa, along with state placers Diamond Freitas and Breeana Dudoit Vasquez. The boys' effort will be spearheaded by defending MIL and state champ Bubba Jaramillo, as well as MIL champions and state placers Christian Balagso, Connor Mowat and Wyatt Chism. The depth of the Luna team will be buoyed by Robert Campos, Justin Inovejas, Jansen Panlasigui Domingo, Thomas Rosen St. John and Nainoa Steward.
Coach Todd noted that both the boys and girls will fill all 14 weight classes at the five MIL meets scheduled across Maui County from Hana to Molokai. On Jan. 12, Lahainaluna will host a dual meet in the campus gymnasium, and on Feb. 21, the MIL Championships will be held at Lahaina Civic Center. The HSAA state championships will take place from Feb. 28 to March 1 at the Neil Blaisdell Center in Honolulu.
The Luna teams have fared well at the two preseason events they've entered - the Garner Ivey Maui Invitational and the Officials' Tournament on Oahu.
"The boys won at the Garner Ivey tournament and the girls took second, and at the officials' meet, the boys took second and the girls finished eighth. Now, the girls' team is on its way to the Paani Challenge at Punahou, which is the largest girls' tournament in the nation. We'll be taking all 15 of our girls to this event," Hayase said.
"I'd like to send our thanks to the Lahaina wrestling 'ohana for their continued support of our team. Thanks especially to the Kaanapali Beach Hotel, the Royal Lahaina Resort and to the Lahaina Minit Stop for their support of the program. With this help and backing, I think we have a good shot at the state title," he concluded.