The Kauai Interscholastic Federation wresting season is about six weeks away, but wrestlers will be on the mats beginning Dec. 20.
In preparation for the second wrestling season, 30 KIF wrestlers and nine coaches attended the three-hour clinic Saturday according to coach Mac Pigott of the Westside Wrestling Club Kauai, and the KIF wrestling tournament director.
Coach Terry Steiner, the U.S. Women’s Olympic coach, was impressed with the wrestlers’ and coaches’ enthusiasm and execution, considering this is just the second year of KIF wrestling, Pigott said.
“The KIF wrestlers kept their attention focused well due to the very high level of training,” Pigott said. “Coach Steiner started the day with warm ups and drills used at the Olympic Training Center before directing what he called ‘situation drills’ intended to give him an idea of the group’s skill level.”
The Olympic coach customized the clinic to best benefit the KIF athletes and coaches.
“I have been to many of Steiner’s clinics on Oahu at the Olympic Training Center,” Pigott said. “Steiner clinics can be like trying to get a drink of water from a fire hose.”
Following the drills, Steiner got down to heart-to-heart talks with the athletes and coaches, concentrating on personal development through the sport of wrestling.
“Only a few wrestlers reach the top of the podium,” Steiner said. “It is the lessons learned from trying to make it to the top that stick with you the rest of your life.”
Steiner told the group that dealing with the adversities presented in the sport of wrestling will prepare them for the adversities in life, noting the U.S. Olympic Women’s wrestling team has been dominated by Hawaii girls, including Clarissa Chun, the 2012 London Games Bronze medalist.
With an abundance of female athletes attending, Steiner looked around.
“Who knows, maybe one of you will be our next Olympic medalist,” he said.
Kauai High School coach Matt Ballard said participation is up from last year’s KIF championship year with four boys and four girls returning, and a field of 10 new wrestlers.
Ballard said the defending KIF champions are preparing for a “feisty Waimea squad, while focusing on fundamentals.”
Pigott notes the Gabriel brothers, Nicholas and Michael, as possible state placers.
“If everyone reaches their optimum weight classes and train hard, Kauai could have a handful of wrestlers placing in the state championships in February, including some of the Red Raider girls,” Pigott said.
The Westside Wrestling Club coach said he is looking forward to the Officials Scholarship tournament Dec. 20-21 on Oahu to get a better idea where the KIF athletes stand due to the high standards established at the preseason tournament.
Waimea High School head coach Rich Capellino was unable to attend the clinic, but assistant coach CJ Threat said that of the 10 wrestlers currently practicing, half are returning wrestlers, including several who pocketed KIF championships during the inaugural season.
Threat said Waimea has many potential KIF champions and even state placers.
Returning Menehune wrestler Nikolay Cariffe could be a contender at states, Threat said. But his weight class is one of the toughest in the competition.
CJ Kahepuu and Ian Garcia, both returning after last year’s season, have dropped one weight class, and keeping their strength, should be competitive at the state championships.
Threat said most of the Menehune plan on attending the Officials Scholarship tournament and should be more comfortable after experiencing the state championships last year.
Tesai Seamster, head coach at Kapaa High School, is encouraged by what he sees at practice.
Kapaa has four returning wrestlers and about nine new wrestlers.
If Kapaa can keep a full roster, the Warriors should be contenders and improve on last year’s third place finish in the KIF, Seamster said, noting that Warriors to watch include Ronnie Perono, Jimmy Guerero and Shiori Leger.
Pigott added his personal observations, noting the Gabriel brothers from the Red Raider stable stepped up their involvement over the summer by traveling with Team Hawaii to the USAW high school Nationals.
“When they went to the Hawaii High School Athletic Association state championships last spring, they saw an advanced level of wrestling with eight mats on the floor of the Blaisdell Arena,” Pigott said. “Imagine, when they traveled to North Dakota in July, and experienced 30 mats on the floor of the Fargodome and the best high school wrestlers in the nation.”
Pigott said he feels the Gabriel brothers have developed well.
“I know Michael will be going all-out this year as a senior to make his mark in high school wrestling,” Pigott said. “Another stand out is the natural Cariffe who has only been with the club two years, but has uncanny natural potential after attending most club practices, tournaments, and clinics.”
Following the Officials Scholarship tournament on Oahu, KIF wrestling matches start in January and February, switching between the four league schools and wrapping up with the KIF championship and the state qualifier on Feb. 15 at Waimea High School.
The HHSAA state championship will be Feb. 28 and Mar. 1 at the Blaisdell Arena on Oahu.
• Dennis Fujimoto, staff writer and photographer, can be reached at 245-0453 or dfujimoto@ thegardenisland.com.