WAIMEA — Though the Kauai Interscholastic Federation is still relatively new to the sport of wrestling, it appears to be trending upwards, said Ray “Mac” Pigott, KIF wresting tournament director.
“Wrestling has a very long, storied history in the state. It’s only the KIF that is new to the sport,” Pigott said. “We are unique. It really is David versus Goliath when we go to these tournaments. Our league is by far the smallest.”
The KIF’s third wrestling season starts in January. Before then, Kauai’s athletes will get the chance to gauge themselves against some of the best in the state at the Hawaii Officials Scholarship Wrestling Association tournament on Oahu, which begins Friday.
The KIF will have nine representatives competing.
“I think we have an opportunity to win some matches. If a few of our standouts perform to their maximum potential, and depending on who they get bracketed with, it’s possible we can get some medals,” Pigott said. “Wrestling is all about competition. We got a lot of good wrestlers in the state.”
Kauai High School will send four boys and two girls to the Officials tourney. Among them are returners: juniors Bryson Yoro and Kaisa Ishikawa, and sophomore Madison Leanio.
“It’s probably the biggest tournament. This being our only travel, this is our one chance to compete off-island,” said Matt Ballard, Kauai head coach. “We’re excited to see them in action — see our new kids in action and see our returning kids improve on their performance from last year.”
Ishikawa placed sixth in the girl’s 101-pound weight class at last year’s tournament.
“She’s kind of our little star. She’s a really good athlete,” Ballard said of Ishikawa. “She did offseason work. She’s been attending (practices) ever since cheerleading got out. She’s been continuing to improve and she’s one year more mature.”
Leanio also competed at the tournament last year. He said last year’s tournament was the first time he’s competed in the sport, adding that he’s much more comfortable this time around because he’s had some matches under his belt since then.
Though this will only be his second year wrestling, he’s been a practitioner of ju jitsu and judo for nine years and that has helped him prepare, Leanio said.
“I’m feeling really good about this tournament. I’ve been practicing hard all offseason to get ready for the winter season,” he said. “I just want to go there and see what I can do.”
Waimea will send three wrestlers to Oahu. Menehune assistant coach Zack Weyart said it will be his team’s chance to compete against wrestlers who they can expect to see at states.
“Wrestling on Kauai is young. It’s kind of an up-and-coming sport. That being said, there’s a lot of talent here,” said Waimea assistant coach Zack Weyart. “It’s kind of an eye opener for them.”
Waimea senior Ian Garcia has wrestled for three years, but this will be his first appearance at Officials.
“It’s exciting but kind of nerve-wracking. You don’t know what to expect over there,” he said. “You got to think that you got to be ready and expect the unexpected. You got to go there with all the confidence in the world.”
Also representing Waimea is junior Connor Danaher, who moved to Kauai from Maine during the summer. He’s been wrestling since he was a fourth-grader.
“Everyone’s been really, really accepting of me. They’ve just been really welcoming,” he said.
As for the upcoming tournament, Donaher said he has no expectations other than to do his best.
“I’ll feel my way around. I don’t like to expect anything from people. You just go in there and see what’s going on,” he said. “As soon as everything falls into place, then you know how you’ll go about things.”
The tournament begins 10 a.m. Friday at Leilehua High School. The KIF’s first tournament is scheduled for 10 a.m. on Jan. 31 at Kapaa High School.