By WAYNE JOSEPH
Kamehameha lost four Big Island Interscholastic Federation wrestling champions to graduation and another to transfer, but the cupboard is far from bare for the Lady Warriors.
“Last year we graduated 13 seniors, and this year we have 13 seniors again (seven girls),” coach Brendan Courtot said. “Some of our seniors are first-year wrestlers, but as coaches we are excited because we have the opportunity to develop some strong leaders on the team and as a result have some really good wrestlers, too.”
Those rookies will try to duplicate the success of senior Welina Tong, who claimed a BIIF title (175 pounds) during her first season on the mat and then finished third at the Hawaii High School Athletic Association tournament in 2012.
The defending BIIF champions also return two other girls who placed at BIIFs, seniors Nellie Towata (runner-up, 98) and Noelle Pohina (third, 125)
The boys team has a large contingent of 24, including three wrestlers looking to improve on runner-up finishes at BIIFs: Kamalu Wright (114), Charlie Aina (130) and Kema Chin (189).
Today’s season-opening meet at 10 a.m. at Konawaena will mark the return of Tanalei Louis, who transferred back to Kealakekua after winning a BIIF title at 125 with Waiakea last season. Louis and returning champ Aimee Shiraki (220) give the Wildcats favorites in two weight classes.
Both tuned up for the season by earning titles at a preseason tournament on Oahu. Justin Raymond, Konawaena’s only returning boys champion, finished second at the tournament, moving up a class to compete at 114.
Here’s a look around the BIIF:
Honokaa: Coach Dan Whetstone calls Christian Silva the favorite at 215 after finishing second a season ago.
Three seniors who grabbed bronze last season are back in David Yagong (125), Allen Chase (160) and Kainoa Lyman (189).
“They all should contend for first place,” Whetstone said. “We also have three transfers that have outstanding records that could contend for a title.”
Angelo Gonzales (145) and Keanu Shaw (285) move over from Laupahoehoe, while Maui High’s Kalani Krael (135) was a Maui Interscholastic League runner-up last year.
Waiakea: The boys team is headlined by returning champion Kayed Rodrigues (171), while the girls squad got a boost when Jasmine Iuta (first, 155) transferred from Kamehameha
“We didn’t lose a lot to graduation, but it’s always a rebuilding effort,” said coach Stan Haraguchi, whose boys team took BIIFs last season.
Kealakehe: The girls team is led by former BIIF champion, Destiny Masters, who will compete at 120 after missing last season with an injury.
“Destiny is driven and willing to put in the extra work to become the best,” coach Mike Ciotti said.
Ciotti also expects a lot from Dan Gampon (runner-up, 120) — and all his other wrestlers, for that matter.
“Dan has set his goals high for the season,” Ciotti said. “Dan has put a lot of extra work in over the summer gearing up for his senior season.
“Our wrestlers and coaches are excited for the upcoming season. We expect 110 percent from our wrestlers and nothing less.”
Hawaii Prep: The Lady Ka Makani’s lone senior is captain Leila Wong, who missed last season with a back injury.
An infusion of six freshmen gives HPA coach Gary Jarvill 20 wrestlers to work with.
“We will be doing a lot of teaching this season with all of these new young wrestlers,” Jarvill said.