Bringing home the hardware

  • Dennis Fujimoto / The Garden Island file

    Waimea’s Kaye Serapio drives against Kauai’s Tia Jaquias in a Kaua‘i Interscholastic Federation varsity girls basketball game at Kaua‘i High during the regular season.

  • Dennis Fujimoto / The Garden Island file

    Waimea’s Kaye Serapio goes to the hoop against Kaua‘i’s Tia Jaquias as Amalya Sales backs the play during a Kauai Interscholastic Federation varsity girls basketball game at Clem Gomes Gym in Waimea during the regular season.

WAIMEA — Waimea High School basketball player Kaye Serapio and her coach Natalie Mata can add more awards to a growing list of accolades.

Serapio, who has played basketball for the last six years and will enter her senior season in the 2020-21 school year, was named the Kaua‘i Interscholastic Federation Player of the Year.

Serapio’s coach Natalie Mata was named the KIF Coach of the Year.

Mata credited Serapio with being one of the anchors of a Menehune team that qualified for the Hawai‘i High School Athletic Association state basketball tournament in back-to-back seasons.

Mata acknowledges the player wouldn’t have achieved the awards without the rest of her teammates, but said Serapio is a crucial component to what the Menehune do.

“Kaye is a go-getter,” Mata said. “Kaye can play somewhere big, and where she goes is going to be up to her.”

During the 2018-2019 campaign they finished third, and last season they lost both of their games. But having that state experience has left the soon-to-be senior wanting more.

“You can never be satisfied, and you have to continue to work towards something bigger, and our first experience in state prepared us to want something bigger,” Serapio said.

Serapio, who aspires to play at the college level, continues to work on her game.

“I will just work on my weaknesses, of course, and try to use my strengths,” Serapio said. “I know my opponents will be picking on my weaknesses, and I need to be able to counteract that.”

With back-to-back losses at state by falling to Hanalani and Seabury Hall, Serapio continues to work hard to achieve her goals of playing at the next level and to compete for a state championship.

“I’ll be honest because we didn’t get what we wanted this season,” Serapio said. “That is only making us more hungry, motivated and dedicated. Not everyone wants to lose their last game. That is what we have to do to get to the next level, and we all know that.”

Mata captures COY

Coach Mata isn’t worried about individual achievements.

Mata, who received KIF Coach Of The Year honors, credited her players for her success.

“I’ve only had success because of the bunch of girls that we’ve had with this class all four years,” Mata said. “They have bought into the program, and they trust me to do whatever I say. They believe in me 100%, and we don’t butt heads, which makes my job 100% easier.”

Mata, who has coached four seasons at the varsity level and before that two years at the junior varsity level, said being named KIF Coach of the Year is an honor.

She began coaching in 2013 shortly after her stint as a basketball player at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo as a scholarship player, and then worked on becoming a coach.

As a coach “I’ve had a lot of approaches, and there are a lot of tweaks still going on in my game today,” Mata said. “I am at a point now where I’ve established a system, and the past two years it’s been showing and working. Now I have my foundation, and I’ve just grown from there.”

Initially, Mata didn’t have aspirations to become a coach. She admitted she just became one as a volunteer assistant for the Menehune, before working her way up through the coaching ranks.

Aside from her coaching duties, she also teaches weight training and physical education at Waimea High.

“I was hoping to play overseas, and I had some people try to help me with that,” Mata said. “I fell into a lazy mode, and I knew my dreams of playing were over. I got into coaching to stick with the game, and that has become my passion.”

What drives Mata to coach and teach is inspiring kids to achieve their goals, she said.

“Teaching wasn’t even on my list of things to do,” Mata said. “It was an opportunity that just presented itself. I took it because I’ve been a coach for these past years, and it just helped me a lot in teaching.”

The KIF Coach of the Year said she enjoys the responsibility of both.

“I am no longer in charge of 10 or 20 girls, but now I am responsible for teaching 100-plus students,” Mata said. “At first, it was something I had to figure out. Now I’ve figured out how to balance both. I love teaching just as much as I love coaching now because, honestly, it’s the same thing.”

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Jason Blasco, sports reporter, can be reached at 245-0437 or jblasco@thegardenisland.com.

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