Once again, another new year is upon us.
In the sports arenas, Kauai has had its share of unbelievable performances and unforgettable moments.
Here are The Garden Island’s Top 10 sports stories of the year:
10. Dirty driving
A crowd of about 5,000 gathered in Omao for the third annual Mud Out, put on by the Garden Island Motorcycle Club and Kuhio Kustoms by Kuhio Auto Group.
About 60 drivers entertained the crowd in the mud bogging showcase in which contestants drove their vehicles as fast as they could through a mud pit about 300 feet long and about five feet deep.
A new edition to this year’s event, though, was drivers dealt with obstacles in the pit.
Marshall Camara, of Lihue, was the best overall winner. Topping the 6-cylinder class, Camara sped through the pit in 10.28 seconds.
“These guys, they put up all this money to build up their vehicles,” GIMC president Bertram Almeida said following the show. “They put in all this time. They got a lot of passion. It’s amazing.”
9. Niumalu, Hanalei win gold at state regatta
Crews from two clubs representing the Kauai Outrigger Association won gold medals at the 2017 Hawaii Canoe Racing Association State Championship regatta on Maui in August.
Niumalu Canoe Club won the girls 12-and-under race with a time of 2 minutes, 04.74 seconds. Crew members were Laule’a Asano, Neva Burkart, Karlie Carvalho, Alexia Cruz, Mekayla Finch and Eleiah Gouveia-McCarthy.
“I got emotional, but I try not to cry,” said Niumalu coach Raymond Serquina. “It’s emotional because, from watching them from when they was little until now, it’s like — they worked very hard for what they got.”
Hanalei Canoe Club won gold in the Women Open 4 race with a time of 4 minutes, 37.50 seconds. Representing Hanalei were Lahela Correa, Lilinoe Forrest, Ka’ui Fu and Sarah Zietz.
For the crew, it was their third-consecutive first-place finish in the category and its fourth since 2012.
“I think this year, of course the pressure was on because we won last year and (the year before). It’s one of the races our club is known for winning,” Fu said. “That race is special to our club because Lilinoe, her mom used to race that race and won it multiple times while she was alive. She’s passed now … It’s kind of our way of upholding that tradition and honoring her.”
8. Baseball ambassadors leave for Japan
The Kauai Yankees, a Little League team made up of players from Lihue, traveled to Japan as ambassadors to promote Kauai as a sports and cultural-exchange destination.
The team played six games against Little League teams from Iwaki City and Hiroshima, Japan in July. The Yankees were 3-3 in that trip.
One of the objectives of the trip was to encourage Little League teams from Iwaki, Hiroshima and other cities to come to Kauai in the near future.
7. ‘The path wasn’t easy’
Kauai native and Major League Baseball relief pitcher Kirby Yates sat down with The Garden Island in November to talk about the highs and lows of his pro career.
It was more than three years ago when Yates made his big league debut with the Tampa Bay Rays, in which he faced four batters and got them all out with two strikeouts.
But since that call-up in 2014, Yates has bounced around the league.
“I just think your opportunity is your opportunity. Some guys get more opportunities than others. Fortunately, I’ve gotten a few opportunities from different teams. But there’s always people behind you, pushing you,” Yates said.
After making appearances with the New York Yankees and the Los Angeles Angels, the Kauai High School alumnus has found a home with the San Diego Padres. This past season, he posted a 3.97 ERA in 62 games.
It was his best season yet, Yates said, but doesn’t want to get complacent as he looks forward to next season.
He hopes to play in the big leagues, at least, for the next five years. And he hopes to do so in San Diego. Yates described the journey up to this point as “awesome, but not done. Not finished.”
6. Kauai’s Keep wins discus gold
Kauai High School’s Taegan Keep won gold at the Island Movers Track and Field Championships on the Big Island in May.
The Red Raider placed first in the girls discus throw event with a distance of 135 feet, 7 inches. She was the only one from the Kauai Interscholastic Federation to win a gold medal, though she said her first few throws weren’t very good.
“I was very nervous. My hands were sweaty. The disc kept slipping. I don’t know if that was from the heat, or being nervous, or both,” Keep said when she returned to Kauai following the state meet.
“Once I found out I was in the finals, I relaxed and my first throw got me to second place. The first place throw was 132-08 by Brittany Kamau of Farrington High School. At that point, I told myself I had nothing to lose and threw 135-07. When I heard the call, I freaked out because I couldn’t believe it.”
5. Kekaha cheer team wins nationals
The Kekaha Titans Pop Warner cheerleading team won its division at the 2017 Pop Warner National Cheer & Dance Championships earlier this month at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Florida.
The Kekaha team won the Junior Varsity PW3 Medium division with a score of 88.20 percent. Divisions vary on grade level, expertise level and the number of members a team has.
The Titans advanced to nationals after qualifying at regionals on Kauai in October.
“On Kauai, we actually placed second. Our girls were kind of disappointed, but the fought,” said Michelle Chiba, Kekaha Titans Cheer head coach. “They trained so hard these past couple of months. It was crazy. They’ve been going home with bumps and bruises crying. It’s pretty amazing to see them come out on top after seeing them go through all the things they went through.”
4. Unutoa chooses Utes
Kapaa High School’s Morris Unutoa Jr., who is maybe the most sought-after football prospect who’s come out of the KIF, made the official announcement at his school.
In February, the offensive lineman signed his letter of intent to the University of Utah.
“I’m feeling really happy right now,” Unutoa said. “I’m excited to go to Utah. Coming down to this day, it was a really tough decision. I was talking a lot with my family throughout the week.”
The finalists that Unutoa was considering were Utah, Brigham Young, Oregon, Virginia, Oregon State and Washington State. Other schools who made scholarships offers were University of Hawaii, Central Florida, Colorado, UNLV, San Jose State and Vanderbilt. His top three were Utah, BYU and Oregon.
His father, Morris Unutoa Sr., is a BYU alumnus and a former NFL offensive lineman.
“There were times where that was the school I wanted him to go to. But at the same time, I wanted him to make his decision,” Unutoa Sr. said. “He did, and I’m very proud of him. It comes down to what a great opportunity he has to go to a university like Utah.”
3. Vierra, Apeles are world champions
Kauai’s Kalani Vierra and Krystl Apeles won the 2017 International Tandem Surfing Association World Championship at Duke’s OceanFest in Waikiki in August.
Vierra and Apeles won each of their heats en route to winning the finals. They finished their championships round scoring 12.42 points.
“We do not surf just for ourselves,” Vierra said . “We surf for the people of Kauai, we surf for the people of Hawaii, we surf for our community, we surf for Duke Kahanamoku. Being native Hawaiians, I think that’s our responsibility to keep the art of tandem surfing alive.”
Apeles said they plan to travel and showcase tandem surfing.
“Through my journey, it’s opened up a lot of opportunities and taught me truly the importance of showing aloha,” Apeles said. “I only hope to resonate that, the love and support we have from my teammate, from my family, from the community.”
2. ‘27 had my back’
Kauai High School varsity baseball coach Hank Ibia had the No. 9 draped on his back for most of his life playing baseball.
But for the 2017 season, he changed his number to honor a late loved one. His uncle, Pedro “Pete” Rabasa, died in January from stomach cancer.
During his days at Kauai High, Rabasa wore No. 27 as a member of the school’s football team. For his uncle, he’d wear the same number.
“That was the number he wore, and he was pretty proud of it. He had one shirt, that shirt for the longest time,” Ibia said. “They brought it out at his funeral. I saw that number all the time. I don’t know what happened. I was sitting down at church and I’m like, ‘What if I carried 27?’ This is for my uncle. One year, so I can hold him up one year and let him go after that.”
The team went 10-3 in the regular season en route to winning its fourth-consecutive KIF title. Many times in the season while standing at third base, Ibia appeared to be talking to himself.
He was actually talking to his uncle.
“That was me saying at third base: ‘Uncle, talk to me brah. I need you right now,’” Ibia said. “At each game it was going on, at times it was falling into place when I was talking to him.”
Ibia will not wear No. 27 again. But the defining moment of when he wore the number happened during this year’s top story.
1. State champions
Kauai High School’s varsity baseball team won the Wally Yonamine Foundation Baseball Championships-Division II state tournament.
The unseeded Red Raiders (13-3) defeated No. 3 Damien Memorial, 5-4, in the championship game at Les Murakami Stadium in Honolulu. It’s the school’s third Division II baseball state title and first since 2011.
“It’s unreal,” said infielder Sam Nakata when the team returned home in May. “Last night, it really didn’t sink in. It’s starting to now.”
The Red Raiders won in dramatic fashion after losing a three-run lead. Facing a 4-3 deficit in the seventh inning, Nakata scored the go-ahead run from third after relief pitcher Keoua Sibayan reached on an error.
Three consecutive grounders in the bottom of the seventh clinched Kauai the state title.
“After all is said and done, these boys here have built a lot of character in themselves and as a team to become state champions,” Ibia said.
En route to the championship, Kauai High defeated three seeded teams including No. 1 Kamehameha Schools-Hawaii.
“We just stuck together, and we just believed,” Nakata said.