LIHUE — Kauai High School and Waimea High School wrestlers walked off with three gold medals apiece Saturday following the second match of the season at the KHS gym.
Kapaa High School finished with one gold medal.
Kauai took the lead in the silver medals, picking up four to Kapaa’s two and Waimea’s one from the field of 33 wrestlers competing in seven brackets.
Waimea rounded out the day with three bronze medals to Kapaa’s two at the Kauai Interscholastic Federation wrestling tournament.
‘This weekend’s tournament was exciting,” said Matt Ballard, Kauai’s coach and host for the weekend’s matches. “There were a lot of close matches which could have gone either way.”
Ballard said coaches push the wrestlers to win, but the ultimate goal is to have the students prepared for life with tools to overcome obstacles and realize their true potential when they give maximum effort.
Ballard said one of the notable wins in Saturday’s tournament was Madison Leanio placing first ahead of two KIF champions, including his teammate Michael Gabriel in the 145-pound class.
“The 145-pound boys division saw some of the best technical wrestling in the tournament,” said Mac Pigott, KIF wrestling tournament director. “Seniors and veteran KIF wrestlers Michael Gabriel and Nikolay Cariff of Waimea showed the crowd some smooth technique in their match, the first in the 145-pound class.”
Pigott said Michael and Nikolay are not strangers, training in the offseason together at the Westside Wrestling Club and traveling together as teammates to tournaments on Oahu and Maui.
Pigott said neither of the seniors have been able to stop Leanio who took the 145-pound division for the second week in a row.
Charlie “C.J.” Kahepuu, coming off a tough basketball game against Kapaa Wednesday, kept his undefeated status, winning the 220-pound boys division.
“CJ is currently ranking ninth in the state of Hawaii,” Pigott said. “The Waimea senior is poised to make his mark this year in high school wrestling, looking at one of the top six spots, and a medal at the Hawaii High School Athletic Association state championships in March.”
Other state-ranked wrestlers, Kaisa Ishikawa (97 pounds), and Nika Tapucol (121 pounds) did not wrestle due to injuries.
Pigott said one of the most exciting matches was between Hanale Reynolds of Kauai, finishing second in the 220-pound boys division, and Ian Garcia of Waimea, ending third below Reynolds.
During the inaugural season in 2013, both boys battled back and forth, exchanging leads before Garcia took a close match to advance to the state tournament.
Saturday, the rivalry was renewed as Reynolds scored a takedown in overtime to beat Garcia.
“This was one heck of a wrestling show,” Pigott said.
This sets the stage for another showdown Saturday when Kapaa High School hosts KIF wrestling at the Bernice Hundley Gym starting at 10 a.m.
Pigott said KIF wrestling is for all students — boys and girls, short and tall from 100 to 300 pounds.
“It’s great to see KIF wrestlers continue to develop their passion for the sport,” Ballard said.