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Luna paddling team sets strong foundation for the future

By Staff | Feb 3, 2011

The team was young with just three seniors.

LAHAINA — When Lahainaluna High School outrigger canoe paddling coach Joey Tihada organized the Na Opio program with several other mentors of the Hawaiian cultural sport, they didn’t realize the impact the effort would have on interscholastic athletics.

It was an unofficial activity for student athletes in Maui County back in 1995 when it all began, but today stands as the top draw for school participation in the Maui Interscholastic League.

Twelve schools — including Lahainaluna, Baldwin, Maui High, King Kekaulike, Kamehameha Schools Maui, Molokai, Lanai, Seabury Hall, Hana, Saint Anthony, Maui Preparatory Academy and Kihei Charter School — competed in MIL canoe paddling this year, which is far and away the top number of school participation for any sport.

And, as indicated by the record turnouts at the Hawaii High School Athletic Association Championship Regatta held annually at Keehi Lagoon in Honolulu for recent events, the sport is growing all across the state.

The state regatta at Keehi Lagoon will take place on Feb. 4, but as of the current standings, only the Lady Luna crew had a shot at qualifying for one of the three allotted MIL slots.

“We’ve been close all through the season,” said Coach Joey from the porch of his second home at the Napili Canoe Club hale last week. “Most of our crews have been running in the middle of the pack, but I feel like we have established a solid foundation for the future with the kids’ effort this year. I see a lot of potential with the girls, so it looks good for the coming years.

“The quality of the competition here on Maui is really improving,” Tihada continued. “They always have the numbers up at Kamehameha, and Coach Luuwai does a terrific job with Seabury Hall that has them up with the top schools in the state along with Molokai this year.

Coach Joey noted that, along with his staff of Mike Tihada, Kekoa Mowat and Theresa Marzan, their main focus has been to maintain the discipline and commitment exemplified by the Lahainaluna football program.

“Our mission has always been to try to make the kids understand the importance of being accountable for their actions and to be adult as much as possible. We want them to learn that coming to practice and working hard will pay off, and things will fall into place for them,” he explained.

The leadership core for the 2011 Lunas included team captains Misty Branco and Justin Balingit Natividad, both seniors. The team roster was made up of senior Brandon Rabang; juniors Mark Ventura, Armando Cardona, Kanoe Dodd, Amanda Arakawa and Kelii Uweookalani; and sophomores Halii Vierra, Malia Refamonte, Kanoe Delatori, Jordan Ruidas, Aloha Kaaihue, Jenina Misay, Michael Naganuma, Jun Wone, Tyler Bartolome, Hayden Bogar, Jazzy Sado and Cullen Muramoto.

Rounding out the Lunas’ 2011 roster are freshmen Kalena Ah Shim, Kailiann Tuipulotu, Leland Alavazo, Jacob Naganuma, Thayer Sigwart-Clark, Kento Pintur and Kelly Ann Kahumoku.

“Our thanks goes out to Napili Canoe Club, led by President Jeanne Gonzalez, and all the board members for supporting the program by letting us use the facilities and equipment here. Also, thanks to the Boarding Department staff, Ray Camacho and the school cafeteria staff, and, of course, to all the coaches for all they do to keep the program going. It’s been a good year — we had fun,” concluded the always optimistic Coach Joey.