KIF wrestler to join former Punahou coach

LIHUE — After wrestling season ended in February, Kauai High School senior Madison Leanio hoped to continue at the college level.

He will do just that.

Leanio signed his letter of intent Tuesday to Kansas Wesleyan University, a Division II school in Salina, Kansas.

The Red Raiders grappler and Kauai Interscholastic Federation standout received a partial scholarship to join the Coyotes wrestling program. He’s yet to visit the campus.

“I’m excited to go wrestle, but also kind of scared because it’s far away. It going to be a new experience, but I’m ready,” he said after signing at the Kauai High School gym.

At Kansas Wesleyan, Leanio will join former Punahou School wrestling coach Matt Oney.

Oney became the Coyotes coach in 2016 after spending 21 years with the Buffanblu, according Kansas Wesleyan University athletics.

Leanio said they met during the Moanalua Wrestling Duals preseason tournament in December.

“It made it feel more like a family thing,” he said. “That’s what he was talking to me about. He wants his school to be more family-oriented — a lot more like a Kauai type of feeling. He’s trying to bring more Hawaii kids in there.”

“I was talking with him since right before Moanalua Duals. He came out there and met with me,” Leanio added. “He really wants me there because Hawaii has a very different wrestling style. Hawaii, we have a lot more judo here, which in the mainland they don’t really have. Hawaii wrestlers, their wrestling style is a lot different. He wants to bring some diversity to his team, to help better his team.”

Leanio’s father, Derrick, said his son’s choice was made easier with the Hawaii connection.

With Oney at the helm, Punahou won six consecutive boys state titles from 2007 to 2012 and won three straight girls championships from 2009 to 2011, according to the Hawaii High School Athletic Association.

“When he talked to Madison, that put him at ease. He understands more of the Hawaii kids,” Derrick said. “They’re going to be far away from home. He knows how to help them go along. And he was the coach back in the day when Punahou was the state champions multiple times in a row.”

KIF wrestling tournament director Mac Pigott said in February that Leanio lost just one league match in the last four years and that he was without question the most accomplished KIF wrestler up to this point.

Leanio placed fourth in the 152-pound boys weight class in the Chevron Wrestling Championships HHSAA state tournament in February. In the previous year, he placed fifth in the same class.

For Kauai High wrestling head coach Matt Ballard, Leanio is his first pupil to continue wrestling in college right after high school.

“He’s had a great KIF career. He’s performed well at the state level,” Ballard said. “Now, he’s going to go off to college where state placers are a dime-a-dozen, and state champions are all over. He’s just got to keep his head up and keep working hard.

“In college, it’s a long season. It becomes quite a grind,” he continued. “Before he knows it, he’ll be beating two-time state champions. By the time he’s a junior and senior in college, he’s going to be busting up the guys that were awesome in high school.”

What will help Leanio at the next level, Ballard added, is he’s a good athlete and he stays mentally focused.

“With that, he can go a long ways. So, I wish him the best. I think he’s going to have a great college career when he gets there and just gets going,” he said.

Leanio intends to study exercise science and plans for a career in physical therapy.

After his time at Kansas Wesleyan, he hopes to go on to Division I. At the top of his list is Arizona State University.

“Division I has been my goal since freshman year,” he said. “That, and win a national title and All-American status. That’s very big to me.”

While it will be difficult to see his son move on to the mainland after graduating from Kauai High, Derrick is sure he will do well in Kansas.

“I don’t think any parent is ready for it,” he said. “You just hope that, with the way you brought him up and the people you surrounded him with, made a good enough influence on him that he makes the right choices and becomes a good adult.”

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