LIHUE — Kauai High School junior Kaisa Ishikawa is entering her third year of wrestling. However, this will be her first time competing at the all-girls tournament on Oahu.
“I’m pretty much looking forward to meeting my opponents that I’m probably going to meet up at states and see what are their strengths and weaknesses,” she said. “I’ll practice all of my moves and see what works and doesn’t work, and practice more when I come back.”
She and six others, including four first-year wrestlers, will represent their school and the KIF at the Paani Challenge Punahou Invitational Girls Wrestling Tournament, which begins today at Punahou School in Honolulu.
Kauai wrestling head coach Matt Ballard described the tournament as the biggest high school all-girls wrestling competition in the country.
“The state of Hawaii is a leader in girls wrestling in that they have a good turnout. It’s a popular sport here in Hawaii, whereas in other states it’s not as popular to be a girl wrestler,” Ballard said. “They get about 300 girl wrestlers to go to this tournament.”
Prior to the tournament, a 3-hour clinic will be led by wrestling Olympian and Hawaii native Clarissa Chun.
For freshman Jordyn Kahananui, a wrestler in the 112-pound weight class, this will be her second tournament. She competed at the Hawaii Officials Scholarship Wrestling Association tournament last weekend.
Kahananui said she is new to the sport but comes from a family of wrestlers, and has trained in jiu jitsu for a few years.
“My whole family is kind of a wrestling family. My brother wrestled last year,” she said. “Some of my friends not that tied to (wrestling). They’re not really aggressive. But I tell them it’s really fun. It’s a good way to let the anger out — that’s what my dad tells me, too.”
Ishikawa, who wrestles in the 97-pound weight class and also participated in the Officials tourney, said she became interested in the sport when the KIF began sanctioning it three years ago.
“It was something new that I’ve never done before. So, I wanted to try it out,” she said. “My dad encouraged me to go out. I came out one day and ended up liking it and stuck with it.”
Suffering a recent shoulder injury, Ishikawa didn’t practice Wednesday, but said she believes she’ll be ready to go and intends to compete this weekend.
”I’m really hyper-mobile. I could hyper-extend my elbows. My shoulder just kind of pops out sometimes,” she said. “I do physical therapy. I’m just trying to strengthen it.”
Ray “Mac” Pigott, KIF wrestling tournament director and founder of local club Westside Wrestling, said when wrestling became a KIF sport, Kauai already had a few female standouts.
He agreed Hawaii has a rich tradition of women’s wrestling and that the Paani Challenge is part of it.
“It’s important to note how good girls wrestling is in the state of Hawaii. We’ve had already several Olympians. For a small state, we’ve had Olympians and national champions,” Pigott said. “Hawaii is progressive in that way.”
Pigott added that Hawaii’s female wrestlers continue to be a dominant force worldwide, and that Punahou has evolved into a really great program.
“The whole event is to promote girls wrestling and girls education,” he said. “A wrestler is a wrestler, boy or girl. (The kids in my club), I see it in their eyes the desire to do better.”
As for the Oahu tournament, Ballard said he expects his first-timers will get some experience under their belts and for his three seasoned girls to get some quality wins against high school varsity-level wrestlers.
“Expectations are higher for our returning wrestlers, for sure,” he said. “It’s a growing experience for the new kids. We’re just expecting them to go out and do their best.”