By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
KEAAU — Sometimes, teamwork is worth more than gold, especially at the Big Island Interscholastic Federation swimming championships where across-the-board points carry the most weight.
How’s this for a head-scratcher: Kealakehe has just 10 girls. Only one Waiakea swimmer won a boys individual event. Not exactly the best recipe for success.
Despite those obstacles the Waveriders and Warriors captured BIIF team titles for the second year in a row on a sun-soaked Saturday at Naeole Pool.
To make life even tougher on themselves, neither school swept the three relay races, which are worth double points. Waiakea finished second all three times in the 200-yard medley relay, 200 freestyle relay and the 400 free relay but still took home the BIIF title in comfortable fashion with 151 points, ahead of Hilo’s 131 points.
In the last girls race, the 400 free relay, Kealakehe’s lineup was Madison Hauanio, Sarah Somsandquansit, Leahi Camacho and Cara Jernigan. It would be the fourth race for all of them, and the most important of the day.
The Waveriders clocked in at 3 minutes and 40.92 seconds, ahead of Hawaii Prep’s 3:47.11 and Hilo’s 3:51.25. All three times were faster than the state-qualifying time of 3:56.19, showing mad-dash intensity with a BIIF title on the line.
First place was worth 18 points and second 16 points. Kealakehe gathered 121 team points. HPA was second with 119 points. Two points made a big difference and so did all the high individual finishes.
Hauanio took gold in the 100 backstroke, completing her string of at least one BIIF crown for all four years. She was also second in the 200 individual medley.
Camacho, a junior, was first in the 500 free and third in the 200 IM. Jernigan had two runner-up finishes in the 200 free and the 100 breast.
“It’s unbelievable and kind of interesting,” Kealakehe coach Steve Borowski said. “We were behind for most of the meet. I thought Waiakea would be the champion and HPA was fantastic. But it came down to improving from seventh to fifth to get points. That made a difference.”
A good example is the 100 breaststroke, the race Waiakea senior Madisyn Uekawa holds a patent on. She won in 1:07.33, her fourth BIIF title in her strong suit. Still, the ’Riders stacked up points. Jernigan had that second, then Madeline Foo was third and Anna Thomas was fifth, scoring a point and adding to the team effort.
“It’s a huge bonus for the team,” Camacho said. “We worked together and needed every last person to do their best. We won because of Anna Thomas. She went from seventh to fifth in the 100 breaststroke.
“We needed every single swimmer. We’re a family more than a team. We’re close-knit and that helped.”
Likewise Hauanio was focused not on herself after adding to her gold collection, but rather on her fellow Waveriders.
“It’s everything I thought it could be,” she said. “It’s the best way to end the BIIF season. The key was teamwork. We don’t have that many swimmers. Everyone had to do their best. We had a lot of swimmers go from seventh to fifth. Those couple of points helped out.”
Meanwhile, Waiakea has depth, with over 30 swimmers. But only Adam Hill pocketed gold in the 100 free in 48.95, ahead of Hilo’s Kurtis Suzuki in 49.97. Hill was also fourth in the 50 free, finding a way to contribute points.
He was also on the 200 medley relay and the 200 free relay, as was Aaron Gonzales, a non-club swimmer who was a vital difference-maker like Kealakehe’s Thomas. Gonzales grabbed fourth in the 100 butterfly.
“It was a total team effort,” Waiakea coach Bill Sakovich said. “Everybody’s time improved and we got a couple of qualifiers for states. That’s a big plus. Aaron made consistent times and really got our relays going. We couldn’t have done what we did without him.”
Like the Waveriders, the Warriors also filled races with swimmers. In the 200 free, Teddy Uekawa took second, Jim Harbour was fourth and Gavin Sako placed fifth, points that proved valuable.
Only swimmers with state-qualifying times reach the Hawaii High School Athletic Association state championships. However, most of the time a BIIF championship is a good enough time to reach states.
Kealakehe and Waiakea didn’t really rely on gold medals to capture league titles again. They had teamwork, which turned out to be better than gold.