By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
Waiakea senior Isaiah Brilhante is playing better than ever, getting his big serve in on the first crack, hitting clean and deep ground strokes that give opponents fits, and playing with the type of self-confidence that champions use as motivational fire.
He’s improved because he’s worked hard. During the offseason, he would drive to Kona three or four times a week to work with personal coach Evan Schermer from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., a routine that became a good habit like brushing his teeth.
“I’m a lot more consistent. Last year, I made a lot of unforced errors,” Brilhante said. “My ground strokes on my forehand and backhand feel a lot more comfortable. My backhand is a lot more powerful, and I can use it as a weapon as opposed to last year when it was a liability.”
In a No. 1 singles battle, Brilhante defeated Shaun Kagawa 6-0, 6-0 to lead the charge as Waiakea swept Kamehameha 5-0 in a boys Big Island Interscholastic Federation tennis match Saturday at the Warriors court.
On the girls side, Waiakea junior Karyl Yamakawa beat Brittny Marino 6-0, 7-6 (10-4) in the No. 1 singles match, and Waiakea edged Kamehameha 3-2, with the last match making the difference.
In girls No. 3 doubles, freshman Kim Kamei and sophomore Katelyn Haruki topped Regan Stradtman-Carvalho and Momi Delostrico 6-2, 6-1. On Wednesday against Hilo, Kamei and Haruki won to swing the team victory to Waiakea.
Last year was a growing experience for Brilhante, who finished as the BIIF runner-up, losing to Kealakehe’s Spencer Travalino, who has graduated. Then at the Hawaii High School Athletic Association state tournament, Brilhante fell in the quarterfinals.
Brilhante knows what’s at stake. He considers Hilo senior Daniel Tada and Hawaii Prep sophomore JJ Minakata as top BIIF title contenders. Brilhante defeated Tada 6-3, 6-2 on Wednesday; for team play, Hilo defeated Waiakea 3-2.
“It’s my last year and I want to win for my school more than anything else,” Brilhante said. “It’s been a long, long time since Waiakea has had a BIIF boys singles champion. I also want to give back to the community because a lot of people have helped me. If I win, it would be an accomplishment where everyone can say they had a part of that.”
Punahou’s Brandon Lee, the guy who beat Brilhante in the quarters, is gone. But Kamehameha’s Marcel Chan, who toppled Lee for the state title, is back. Brilhante is ranked No. 1 in the USTA Hawaii Pacific region for 18s, so that’s a good confidence boost.
“He has a lot more self-confidence. He knew he was good, but didn’t know if he could beat the top Oahu guys, the guys from Punahou,” said Waiakea coach Bill Brilhante, who’s also Isaiah’s dad. “But the confidence correlates to the hard work on and off the court. “He’s always worked hard, but you see that extra he gives. That’s the same thing we saw in Sarah Dvorak.”
Dvorak is the two-time defending BIIF champion and finished runner-up twice to Mililani’s Alyssa Tobita for the state championship. Dvorak has decided not to play for Waiakea this season. The state championships will be held May 2-4 at Mauna Lani, a nice homecourt advantage.
Dvorak’s absence opens the door for the girls BIIF singles title race. The Waiakea coach believes Yamakawa will be a candidate along with Kealakehe’s Mai Kobayashi, Hilo sophomore Kelly Soares and freshmen Emily Soares and Didi Wong.
Kelly Soares, a sophomore, played doubles last year with Eve Flaspohler and they won the BIIF championship, but lost in the quarterfinals at states. She and her sister could make a formidable doubles team, or they could knock heads chasing the vacant BIIF singles title.
The league has eight spots each for singles and doubles to states, with an asterisk. Sometimes, it’s eight. Sometimes, it’s seven. Sometimes, there’s a play-in to states.
Whatever the case, Yamakawa got the short end of the stick the last two years. As a freshman, she played doubles, finished eighth, but only the top seven went. Last year, she played No. 2 singles and had a painful season.
Yamakawa sprained an ankle and lost a marathon to Hawaii Prep’s Alina Katase 3-6, 6-3, (1-0 ) 13-11 that would have secured a state berth. She had a play-in match on Oahu to qualify for states, but lost in three sets.
At least, she experienced states with the team. Yamakawa also went to the state air riflery championship. She was part of the Waiakea state championship squad, but states was held here last October, so that doesn’t really count.
She’s itching to earn her way in and contribute something meaningful. For air riflery, she wasn’t part of the starting four and shot as an individual. Lindsey Kimura was 14th at states in air riflery; she’s playing No. 2 doubles with Marissa Hayashi.
“I really, really want to make it this year,” Yamakawa said. “I’ve been so close the past two years. When you come back from states, you come back closer as a team. It’s a fun bonding experience.”
She takes her promotion to No. 1 singles seriously. Yamakawa doesn’t focus on playing the other team’s top player. Rather, she feels it’s her role to be a team leader.
“If you want someone to move their feet, you have to move your feet more,” she said. “So that they look up to you.”
That’s the type of team-first attitude that would turn the Waiakea coach into a happy camper. “There’s individual competition, but tennis is a team sport. There are team scores,” said Brilhante, who smiled brightest while pointing out that his No. 3 doubles team provided the swing match for a second straight time and another team victory.
Waiakea’s Isaiah Brilhante def. Shaun Kagawa 6-0, 6-0.
Waiakea’s Sam Matsuura def. Isaiah Stillman 6-1, 6-0.
Waiakea’s Brandon Hamamoto/Tevyn Gomez def. Matt Yamamoto/Isaac Stillman 2-6, 6-0, 10-7.
Waiakea’s Danny Matsuura/Hajime Hayano def. Eric Moke-Rabang/Kolby Akiyama 6-2, 6-1.
Waiakea’s Nick Winters/Williamson Marshall def. Colton Hill/David Finely.
Waiakea’s Karyl Yamakawa def. Brittny Marino 6-0, 7-6 (10-4).
Kamehameha’s Kalei Lee def. Samantha Zee 6-2, 7-5.
Kamehameha’s Sara Kim/Sierra Hill def. Kaylan Young/Candice Roddie 6-2, 1-6, 10-7.
Waiakea’s Marissa Hayashi/Lindsey Kimura def. Rachel Saquing/Bree Kaneakua 6-1, 6-0.
Waiakea’s Kim Kamei/Katelyn Haruki def. Regan Stradtman-Carvalho/Momi Delostrico 6-2, 6-1.