Junior Lifeguards reclaim state championship

LIHUE — Randy Ortiz, one of the Ocean Safety Bureau instructors for the Junior Lifeguard program, watched the Kauai Juniors piece together the wooden figure representing the state championship Saturday night at the Lihue Airport.

“What?” Ortiz said. “He’s back? He’ll go and be displayed at the office.”

The Kauai Junior Lifeguards had to reassemble the state trophy after hand-carrying the coveted piece home from the Junior Lifeguard state finals which were held Saturday at Ala Moana Park in Honolulu.

“Dr. Monty Downs of the Kauai Lifeguard Association was there,” said Eugene Ancheta, a Kauai Junior Lifeguard instructor. “He saw the excitement, and I told him, ‘This is what I wanted you to see, Doc.’”

The 45-person Kauai contingent returned home to an enthusiastic audience of parents and friends. The state championship hopefully resumes the string of state titles which was broken with last year’s defeat after 13 consecutive state championships.

“We had a lot of our big people last year,” Ortiz said. “Look at this group — they’re all young people starting out. They’ve got a taste of what it feels like to be champions. They’ll be back.”

According to notes kept by Ancheta, Kauai put together its state win led by the paddleboard relay where the Kauai crew took first place in all four divisions — the Girls 12-14, the Boys 12-14, the Girls 15-17, and the Boys 15-17 age groups.

La‘i Viernes was one of the boys in the winning paddleboard relay team.

“This is the third time I’ve gone to states,” said Viernes, a strong finisher during the Kauai Island Finals. “The paddleboard relays definitely helped the team get the title. We swept the event. Our guys were good. All that practice helped. We could see the other teams dropping their boards in the transfer, and that helped us. All that practice and what Eugene told us helped.”

Kelsey Ortiz, competing in the Girls 12-14 beach flags, emerged as the first-place finisher.

“It was intense,” Kelsey Ortiz said. “We started out with about 30 girls in the field. That was cut to the top six. After that, it was single elimination to the top. The last two races were the most intense, I was the only Kauai girl left with one from Maui and the other from Oahu. I could hear the guys screaming. I did what Eugene told me to do — focus on the flag.”

Kelsey Ortiz, enjoying her first trip to the state competition, tried to keep her focus on the flag.

“I ran my heart out,” she said. “It took a while for me to realize I actually won. People were screaming, the other girl was still on the ground — she was a really good competitor, a really sweet girl, but a strong competitor until the end.”

Ancheta said the Kauai group also did well in the 1,000 run where all of the divisions placed runners in the top finishers.

“They came firing on all cylinders right out of the gate,” Ancheta said. “They were unreal.”

Ella Beck, Kaya Camara and Nahe Edwards finished 1-2-3 in the 1,000 run, Girls 12-14 division.

“This was my first time at states,” said Nahe, whose family traveled to Oahu to watch the competition. “I was nervous, but I came prepared. The competition is really tough and states is a challenge — a good challenge.”

During the 1,000 run, Girls 15-17 division, Tori Hennessy broke the tape in first place followed by Tamari Davis in second and Juliana Tampus in third.

Kellen O’Rourke broke the tape first for the Boys 12-14 division followed by Jeremy Herr, a repeat of the Kauai Island Finals, and in the Boys 15-17 division, Garret Smith broke the tape in first followed by Dutch Fairbanks in second.

Other highlights included Henry Scherer placing second in the 200 swim, Boys 15-17 division, with Keanu Smith finishing fifth. Malia Splittstoesser filled in the No. 2 spot in the 200 swim, Girls 15-17 division, with Hayley Ka‘eo getting third.

Tampus led the Kauai girls in the run/swim/run, Girls 15-17 division, with a second finish followed by Maddie Hoesel in third and Lani Alo in fourth.

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