What: All-schools meet
When: 10 a.m. Waiakea
By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
Once he jumped over a fence of self-doubt, the sky suddenly became no limit for Hilo senior wrestler Federico Vento, who worked to mold himself into a Big Island Interscholastic Federation title contender.
But at first it wasn’t easy or fun. He tried out for the team as a freshman and sophomore, but decided not to stick with the sport.
Then something changed last season, and he not only committed, but also showed promise, finishing fourth at the league championships in the 120-pound weight class.
“My freshman year I tried out, lost and didn’t want to wrestle. My sophomore year I got beat up again and didn’t wrestle,” he said. “My junior year I promised myself I’d see how I would do in a competition. That first time in competition I got beat up really bad.
“After that it was fun. The next one I had to win and even if I lost I wanted to keep going. Now, I don’t want to lose. It’s pretty much the competition, that’s what drives me.”
He was an alternate at the Hawaii High School Athletic Association state championships last year. Vento didn’t get to wrestle, but he watched and learned. (Only the top three finishers at the BIIF championships earn state berths.)
After that experience, Vento tried out for judo for the first time with the Vikings, and at the BIIF championships took first place in the 121 class. Judo has been a long-time sport for him, but he went 0-2 at states.
It served as motivation and now Vento is the No. 1 ranked wrestler in his class.
“He’s got an awkward style because of his judo,” Hilo coach Alex Kalawe said. “But he’s got really good focus and he’s worked hard. He’s learned new things and the last two years he’s worked hard in the offseason.
“He works hard at practice and he’s one of the leaders on the team. He’s one of our captains.”
Vento has a 15-3 record, including preseason competition. He’s lost to Konawaena’s Warren Buenavista and Justin Raymond, the defending BIIF champs in the 114 and 108 divisions, and took it as a learning experience.
“I got a feeling how they wrestle and it made me smarter and made me a better wrestler,” Vento said. “I have to train harder and work on my cardio, and try to be faster. Warren is a lot faster than me.”
After graduation, Vento is looking to enter the culinary program at Hawaii Community College, then transfer to UH-Manoa to major in nutrition and fitness. He would like to become a nutritionist, but that’s not all, as far as future plans.
“My dad (Fred) taught me the most. He’s an instructor and black belt at Higashi Hongwanji,” Vento said. “I want to teach people how to wrestle. I feel what I’ve been taught it’s only right for me to pass down.”
Like Vento, Lahi Kanakanui had to endure growing pains before she could stand tall.
She was third at the BIIF championships in the 140 class as a freshman and was ousted early at states. Last season, she won gold at BIIFs and placed fifth at states.
“My freshman year it was all about the basic moves and I didn’t care about the point system,” she said. “I’d go for the pin. But now I want to get ahead, keep pushing, no matter how low I am on points. I want to keep going and go beyond my limit. If the pin is there, then I’ll go for it. I like to stand on the top podium to get that medal.”
She’s also a team captain, a role reversal of sorts, offering tips to the inexperienced, green Vikings. There are benefits to being a team captain, too.
Shaylyn Arakaki (97 pounds), Nina Baen (101) and Katie Funai (109) are all ranked No. 1 in their weight classes, three Viking rookies able to wrestle and push each other under the advice from Kanakanui.
“I know I have to work hard as a team captain,” said Kanakanui, who also won judo gold at BIIFs last season and was fifth at states. “Being team captain, there’s a lot of pressure. But it’s good in a way. I like helping people and seeing them use what I helped them with in a match. It’s good to help them and see them do it on their own.”
Funai, a sophomore first-timer, is excelling despite her inexperience.
As a good student of the game, Funai has really chopped down the learning curve, noted Kalawe, in his third year at Hilo.
“She’s smart and picks up technique really well,” he said. “She’s been winning by pin in most of her matches. She’s strong, and that’s the big thing for her. She comes to all the practices, and the three girls practice together and work together. That’s very helpful.”
Funai also wants to try out for judo. She could pick up tips from Arakaki, the defending BIIF champ in the 98 class. Funai joined cross country, helping with her cardio.
She’s got a pair of role models in team captains Vento and Kanakanui, regarded for their dedication and practice habits. And she’s following in their footsteps.
“I stay focused and come to practice every day. I make wrestling my first priority after school,” she said. “It’s made me very dedicated and I know how to prioritize things. I’ve been working hard every day and I hope that I advance. My goal is to win BIIFs.”