Another year has come and gone.
Along with it, we gain a year’s worth of memories — glorious victories, crushing defeats, but most importantly the pride of competing.
Kauai has seen plenty on its gridirons, courts and fields. In those contests, some of the island’s best and brightest stood out to etch their names in the stories that people will talk about for a long time.
Here are The Garden Island’s Top 10 sports stories of 2016:
1. Red Raiders shock Warriors — Kauai High scores 20 unanswered to upset No. 1 Kapaa
Going into this Kauai Interscholastic Federation regular season matchup, eventual-champion Kapaa was riding high on a six-game winning streak and Kauai High was yet to win its first contest.
The Red Raiders would get their first win in dramatic fashion, scoring 20 unanswered points to upend the then-ranked No. 1 team in the state in Division II.
Kapaa led, 17-0, in the third quarter before Kauai went on the comeback trail. Red Raiders junior running back Jaykob Nakaahiki-Young scored the go-ahead touchdown off an eight-yard run.
“I’m only now realizing that we beat the No. 1 team. They’re still No. 1, right?” Kauai head coach Derek Borrero said after the game. “It hit me right now in front of these kids. We never focused on that. We just focused on improving every single day.”
“We had a good week of practice. We’ve had good weeks, and it just came together today. It was our time. I told the boys that when it’s our time, it’s our time. We just got to continue to work hard every day,” he added. “The boys played good. We didn’t play a perfect game, but we played consistent enough today. And I’m just really proud of them.”
Kauai would win close out the season with a 16-14 win over Waimea at Hanapepe Stadium.
2. Kapaa again falls short in Division II title game, loses to MIL’s Lahainaluna 21-14
Kapaa would finish the regular season as winner of a third-consecutive KIF championship.
After defeating Damien Memorial in the semifinals, the Warriors had another shot at what no team in the KIF’s history as accomplished — a football state title.
Kauai, however, will have to wait at least another year as Kapaa lost to Lahainaluna of the Maui Interscholastic League, 21-14, in the championship game at Aloha Stadium.
The Warriors cut into the Luna’s lead after trailing, 21-0 in the third quarter. The team’s last score was a 32-yard completion from quarterback Teili Fonua to receiver Gabe Keener.
“Well, again we had a great opportunity but we didn’t finish it. I’m proud of the way the boys fought. We fought back,” said head coach Philip Rapozo. “We lost to a good team. … We all knew they were a team to reckon with.”
3. Kawaihau Community Little League wins US title, then loses in final of Junior World Series
On a run that spanned months, local youth baseball club Kawaihau Community Little League went unbeaten all the way to the Junior League Baseball World Series in Michigan.
Kawaihau, based in Kapaa, won the U.S. Championship, defeating Padre LL of Texas, 4-3, to earn the bid to the tournament final. Later in the same day, Kawaihau lost to Shing-Ming Junior LL of Chinese Taipei in the final, 9-1 — a game that was televised on ESPNU.
“They got nothing to be ashamed of. Second-best in the world ain’t too shabby,” Kawaihau head coach Justin Malina said.
4. Kalaheo’s Nate Herbig again commits to Stanford University
Kalaheo native and former Saint Louis School offensive lineman Nate Herbig, after de-committing and reopening his recruitment in December 2015, recommitted to Stanford University — signing his letter of intent on Feb. 3. He initially verbally committed in June 2015.
“It was crazy. It was like all my dreams come true, and (I’m) going to a national powerhouse,” Herbig said of the day he signed his letter. “I don’t regret anything I did during my decision. I mean, my pop always told me, ‘Whatever decision I make is the correct one.’”
Herbig has since become a starter for Stanford and was named to the ESPN’s True Freshman All-American team.
5. Runners credit volunteers, spectators for seeing them through Kauai Marathon and Half Marathon
A total of 1,609 runners crossed the finish line at the eighth annual Kauai Marathon in Poipu.
September’s race brought out participants from 44 states and 13 countries. 257 finished the full marathon, and 1,352 completed the half marathon. A record 2, 044 registered.
Shou Sakuma of Japan was the top men’s finisher with a time of 2:30.51. Honolulu’s Yuko Nakai topped the women with a time of 3:16.03.
“There is no question that the nature of the course overwhelmed me,” Sakuma said. “However, the community of Kauai and their warm support is what drove me to win the race. Everyone’s energy was amazing.”
6. Warriors senior OL Unutoa Jr. garnering Division I scholarship offers
Another Kauai football prospect has gotten a lot of attention.
Kapaa High School senior offensive lineman Morris Unutoa Jr. has received 10 scholarship offers from Division I schools: University of Hawaii, Brigham Young University, Utah, Vanderbilt, UNLV, Oregon State, Colorado, Washington State, San Jose State and Central Florida.
The National Letter of Intent initial signing date is Feb. 1. “It has been (overwhelming), but at the same time it’s really exciting,” Unutoa said following a team practice in July.
Unutoa’s father, Morris Unutoa Sr., was an offensive lineman in the National Football League — serving seven years in the league with the Philadelphia Eagles, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Buffalo Bills. He also played collegiate football at BYU.
7. Kauai Aces win USSSA 12AAA World Series tournament in Texas
Another local youth baseball club, the Kauai Aces, also enjoyed a fruitful 2016.
The Aces, a Pony League 12-and-under squad, won the top prize of the United States Specialty Sports Association 12AAA World Series in Texas. The team was undefeated in tournament play, beating the Dulin’s Dodgers Dowell club from Tennessee, 6-0, in the championship game.
“It feels very good. It’s a big accomplishment for a little island,” said Aces head coach Kevin Akita. “It’s 11 kids that we took. Winning the whole thing, that is really big for the island of Kauai. There’s not too many kids that can say they earned that World Series ring.”
8. The one that didn’t count — Kmart’s annual fishing event reels in anglers
Riley Refamonte reacted with glee as weighmaster Ron Young announced the weight of his giant ulua was 123 pounds during the weigh-in of the 19th annual Kmart shoreline fishing tournament.
The elation over the big catch was short-lived, though, as the cheers were replaced with groans as Refamonte announced that he wasn’t registered for the tournament that attracted more than 120 keiki and more than 163 adult anglers.
“I just wanted to see how much it weighed,” Refamonte said. “I didn’t think we were going to catch anything so I didn’t enter.”
Garren Leanio-Balagat turned in a fish that settled the scales at 91 pounds for the top honor.
9. Waimea wins first KIF boys soccer title since 2006 on senior night
Waimea’s varsity boys soccer team beat Kauai High, 2-0, to clinch the program’s first KIF championship in 10 years.
What made the victory so much sweeter was that the Menehune won the league title on their senior night.
“I blacked out once I scored. It was just an insane feeling,” said senior midfielder Marc Serapio, who scored the match’s second goal. “I wasn’t expecting to get it.”
“The seniors on our team, they thoroughly deserve it,” said Menehune head coach Kapono Chong-Hanssen. “They’re not the most-talented kids, but they’ve come a long way from where they started. They deserve some glory.”
10. Hundreds line up for chance to visit with Kauai’s ‘Soul Surfer’ Bethany Hamilton
Hundreds of people waited outside Jamba Juice at Kukui Grove Center for a chance to meet the Kauai woman who is one of the world’s most famous surfers.
The 26-year-old Hamilton signed autographs for an hour, smiled, and talked story with her enchanted fans, who beamed with delight as they posed for pictures with their hero.
Hamilton, who survived a 2003 shark attack at Tunnels Beach that claimed her left arm, returned to the water a month later, and won a national title within two years. She went on to become a professional surfer in 2007.
“Being here at Kukui Grove is awesome, and I’m excited to hopefully stoke some people out and have a fun time together and encourage the younger people to chase their dreams and know that they can, coming from a small island of Kauai,” Hamilton said.