By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
Honokaa senior wrestler Cortney Oshiro has experienced success, but she hasn’t been the best in her weight class — something that drives her and three of her equally hungry teammates.
There are just two all-schools tune-ups left before the Big Island Interscholastic Federation championships, which reward the top three finishers in each division a berth to the Hawaii High School Athletic Association state tournament.
“Last season, I tired myself out toward the end of the season and didn’t place at BIIFs,” she said. “It was the same thing as a sophomore.”
Oshiro wrestled in the 130-pound class both times. She’s hoping to compete in the 125 division, but needs to drop three pounds. Otherwise, she’ll likely run into Konawaena’s Tanalei Louis, the most dominant girls wrestler in the league.
Last season, Louis competed at 125, pocketed the BIIF title in a landslide, and took third at states. Now, she’s jumped to the 130 class for her senior year, after transferring from Waiakea, where she won a state judo title as a junior at 129 pounds.
The competition at 125 pounds is no piece of cake either. Kamehameha’s Noelle Pohina was third at BIIFs last year. But at least Oshiro has a psychological hammer, having posted two wins over Pohina, so far.
“My goal is to place first in BIIFs at 125 pounds,” Oshiro said. “I have to eat healthy, keep running and practice extra hard.
“My team and coaches motivate me. It’s like a family and together we make it fun. I’ve learned that it’s hard to work out by yourself. My team gets me going and I don’t want to let down my coaches and teammates.”
She joined wrestling as a sophomore, after a friend convinced her to try out. Oshiro found the individual aspect compelling and decided it was the sport for her, after also trying judo and track and field.
There are 14 weight classes, but in coach Dan Whetstone’s 11 years at the school the Dragons have never filled out all 28 spots for the boys and girls. The lightweights are the hardest to find, especially among the boys. (Most of the athletic, little guys are on the soccer team.)
“We’ve got seven seniors and it’s our best chance to compete for the BIIF title,” he said. “Usually we’ll fill 10 of the 14 weight classes for the boys and get six or seven for the girls.
“Cortney has really come along. I expect her to take first or second. She’s a hard worker and has learned her moves perfectly. She works hard at practice and runs on her own on the outside.”
As the dean of the BIIF wrestling coaches, Whetstone has a simple teaching philsophy that doubles as a good life lesson: Be committed.
If a wrestler misses a practice, then that Dragon will be sitting on the sideline on competition day. Also, technical moves are to be practiced until they are perfected. Otherwise, it’s the next Dragon up to bat and a seat on the bench.
With that in mind, Whetstone believes three other seniors — Kainoa Lyman, Allen Chase and Christian Silva — have a good shot for gold at the BIIF championships.
Lyman is an accomplished BIIF wrestler, winning bronze at 189 last year and 215 as a sophomore. But a gold medal is missing from his collection and a tough opponent stands in the way. Kamehameha’s Kema Chin was runner-up at BIIFs last season.
“He’s strong and has good technique,” said Lyman, who also played football for Honokaa. “I’ve lost to him since my sophomore year. I try to use the same attitude as football — push as hard as I can. All that losing I got motivates me.”
His hard work has earned him recognition before. He was named to the All-BIIF first team in Division II at offensive and defensive line as a senior.
Lyman, who has a 3.4 grade-point average, is looking to play football at a junior college, where he plans to major in fire science.
Like Lyman, Allen is in a similar boat with a bronze medal from last year to remind him that gold is a better color. He competes at 160 pounds and has a worthy foe in Hawaii Prep’s Josh Ching, who was runner-up at 152 at BIIFs last year.
“I’m doing pretty good. I’m undefeated at 160, but there’s a lot of room for improvement,” Allen said. “I wrestled twice at 171 and lost once. At 160, it’s tough. There are a lot of good guys. HPA’s Josh Ching is dedicated, has mad skills and a passion about wrestling too.”
Allen also battles an internal opponent as well, his right knee, suffering from joint and nerve pain from a rugby injury.
He didn’t go to states last season and doesn’t plan to attend if he has another top three finish at the BIIF championships. Gold is his goal, even if it comes attached with a bittersweet feeling.
“I’d be really happy if I won a BIIF title, but at the same time I’d feel bad,” he said. “That’s one less guy not representing the island at states.”
At least, he went to states for another sport. He paddled with Lyman for the Kawaihae Canoe Club and qualified for the Hawaii Canoe Racing Association state regatta during his sophomore year.
In his spare time, he’s community-minded. He’s a member of the Boy Scouts and for his Eagle project he painted the Waimea elder housing units.
“That felt great to give back to the community and provide a service they couldn’t do for themselves,” said Allen, who has a 3.2 GPA and plans to serve a two-year Mormon mission before attending BYU-Hawaii to study business and accounting.
Of all the Dragons, Silva has the best shot at gold. The guy who pinned him, HPA’s Troy Choi, for the 215-pound BIIF title last year graduated.
Unlike the lower weight classes, where speed, quick shoots and takedowns are the order of the day, the bears often rely on muscle.
“We use brute strength, or certain types of takedowns, mostly head, arm and ankle picks,” said Silva, who played football for four years, has a 3.0 GPA and is thinking of joining the military after graduation.
Unlike Lyman and Allen, both four-year wrestlers, Silva tried out as a sophomore and struggled because of his inexperience, getting fed technical moves in losses that he absorbed.
“I was a new person and I didn’t know what to do,” he said.
After several years of lifting weights on Mondays and Wednesdays and taking three-mile runs on Tuesdays and Thursday, and countless hours of practice, Silva, like his fellow seniors, has a shot at making a final lasting memory.
“That second place felt good, but not as good if I got gold,” said the hungry Dragon.