Local high school wrestlers have spent the last month competing at preseason tournaments off island in preparation for the Kauai Interscholastic Federation season.
The KIF regular season begins Jan. 9 at Island School. The first tournament is scheduled for 10 a.m.
“We’re getting better and continuing to improve,” said Kauai High head coach Matt Ballard. “We still have a ways to go.”
KIF representatives took part in five events over the past few weeks: the Garner Ivey Maui Invitation, the Hawaii Wrestling Officials Association Scholarship Tournament, the Paani Challenge Punahou Girls Invitational, the Castle High School OIA Novice Tournament and the Moanaloa Duels.
Ballard said though his team collectively struggled at the Moanalua Duels, the experience gained is valuable.
Kauai senior Bryson Yoro was 5-2 in the 145-pound class. Junior Madison Leanio was 2-4 in the 152-class.
“We got pinned a ton. We got black eyes and we got ice on our shoulders and on our knees. But bottom line is that the boys grew,” Ballard said. “It’s like they went there (as) boys and they come back men, kind of thing. But it wasn’t pretty.”
Kauai had several girls place at the all-girls tournament at Punahou School earlier this month. Red Raiders senior Sierra Sanoe Kalama placed 2nd in the 138-pound open division.
“She’s one of our wrestlers that’s been doing this for four years now,” Ballard said of Kalama. “She’s been working hard and continuing to improve. That’s the result of coming to practice.”
Seniors Kaisa Ishikawa and Sheena Juliano and sophomore Halle Sakai each placed fifth in their respective classes at the Punahou event.
Kapaa sophomore Braeden Jensen fell short of competing for a medal, going 3-2 and finishing tied for seventh in the 160-pound bracket at the Officials tournament on Oahu.
“He’s a really talented wrestler, but more than that he’s a dedicated wrestler,” said Kapaa coach Larry Richardson. “The Officials tournament, it’s a tough tournament. I knew going into it, he would have his work cut out for him. He wrestled really well.”
Richardson added getting KIF athletes to these tournaments is what will get them up to snuff with the rest of the state.
“I think the preseason went extremely well for us. Wrestling in the KIF, in general, it’s only the fourth year, so there’s a lot of building and getting these Kauai kids up to speed,” he said.
Waimea coach C.J. Threat, too, said getting Kauai’s kids to tournaments is necessary to raise the competition level in the KIF.
“I have a lot of young kids. I have two seniors, basically, and the rest are freshmen and one sophomore,” Threat said. “A lot of this was getting them used to wrestling in general and seeing how it is when they go to these tournaments.”
He added sophomore Corey Agena, who currently is in the 120-pound class, showed a lot of improvement since last season.
“Last year was really rough for him because he was a first-year wrestler. … We took him to states. He really didn’t get a chance to win because he was wrestling guys with four years of experience and above,” Threat said. “(This year), he’s gotten wins in these preseason tournaments. I think it’s awesome. He’s grown so much.”
Menehune senior Connor Donaher, who placed sixth in the 195-pound class at last year’s Hawaii High School Athletic Association state tournament, suffered from a concussion at the Officials tournament and withdrew.
Threat said Donaher feels fine, but he’s taking extra precaution.
“We’re going through the concussion protocol. The biggest thing for us is our athletes’ safety,” Threat said. “He wants to wrestle. I feel bad I got to hold him back, but it’s a safety thing.”
Island School coach Erin Cobb-Adams couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday.