By WAYNE JOSEPH
KEAAU — Off the radar for much of the season, Honokaa is starting to hit its stride as it gets set to defend its Big Island Interscholastic Federation cross country title.
Led by Anthony Connors’ victory Saturday, the five-time defending champion Dragons scored their first win of the season at Kamehameha in the final meet before the league championships.
“We’re peaking at the right times,” Connors said. “I think we have a great shot at winning our sixth team title.”
Brooks McVey bolstered Honokaa by finishing third as he and Connors broke into the top five for the first time this season.
Kohala’s Josiah Adams also pocketed his first top-five finish and took home a newfound boost of confidence.
“I did it for my parents who come out to watch me run every week,” Adams said. “I hope I made them proud today.”
Meanwhile, Hawaii Prep’s Zoe Sims made sure there were no surprises at the top of the girls race.
Another new name to the boys leaderboard was Hawaii Prep’s Michael Spetich, a junior who wanted to “prove” himself. He did that, and he and the Ka Makani are beginning to break through heading to BIIFs, which will be run along the rolling hills of Waimea on Oct. 19.
Meanwhile, Waiakea’s Ian McQuate, no stranger to the leaderboard, was saving his best for last.
“I don’t want to sound cocky, but I think I can win BIIFs,” McQuate said. “If I peak at the right time then anything is possible, you gotta believe in miracles.”
He and Parker’s Paul Gregg are two of the favorites at the BIIF championships. Last year’s champion, Honokaa’s Chayce Moniz, graduated.
Honokaa (60) was followed by HPA (63), Hilo (79), Kealakehe (94) and Kamehameha (96).
“Our goal is just to get a boys team into states,” Kamehameha coach Ryan Cabalse said. “We’ve never had a scoring boys team at states.”
According to Hawaii Prep athletic director Steve Perry, the top four teams at BIIFs along with the first 37 girls and 38 boys will qualify for the Hawaii High School Athletic Association championships, which are Oct. 27 in Waimea.
The HPA girls figure to be well represented on their home course, led by Sims, Kristina Van Pernis and Mariah Haight. In his seventh season, coach Michael Franklin has guided the Ka Makani to five league championships, including the past four, and the 2011 state title.
“When running you must really be in the moment,” Van Pernis said.
Those thoughts were echoed by Sims, who wasn’t looking ahead to her run at a BIIF repeat after winning Saturday.
“I don’t really think about that a lot,” Sims said. “I just run how I feel and today’s top five girls were all within 10 seconds of each other.”
That group also included Van Pernis and Haight along with Hilo’s talented duo of Mehana Sanbado-Halpern and Carmen Garson-Shumway. They’re all great friends and help each other in forming a pack.
“We’ve got the best five-pack in the BIIF and we’re all keeping in close. We’re glad that they want to run with us, because strong runners only make us better,” Sims said.