By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
Konawaena senior Justin Raymond lost a Big Island Interscholastic Federation judo match last week, the first time he has ever fallen to a league opponent and it was against a good one in Hilo senior Federico Vento.
Raymond is the defending two-time BIIF champion at 114 pounds. He won another BIIF title as a freshman at 108. He had one tie as a sophomore.
His loss column was unblemished until Vento, the defending BIIF champ at 121, took him down with an ippon — a hard slam that equates to an automatic victory at Kealakehe last week.
“Justin is technically a lot better and more hungry since his loss,” Kona coach Rodney Blanco said. “He hasn’t been this motivated in practice since right before he went to states last year.
“It’s nice to see him looking forward to getting back on track and getting that 4 for 4 with gold. When he gets to states, he can make some noise over there.”
Raymond made quick work of Waiakea sophomore Joshua Ohara on Saturday, grabbing him, turning and throwing him over his right shoulder for ippon.
Last season at the Hawaii High School Athletic Association state tournament, Raymond took home silver.
The Wildcats return four BIIF medalists from last year or five if senior Tanalei Louis, who transferred from Waiakea, is counted. Louis is the defending BIIF champion at 129 and captured gold last season at states.
“Tanalei is an animal,” Blanco said. “She’s one of the hardest workers I’ve had the privilege to coach. She works hard at practice, then goes home and work out at a gym. She’s a machine.”
Louis pocketed four BIIF championships in wrestling and at states took home a silver and three bronze medals.
The other returning medalists are Ruby Suarez (122, silver), Lihau Matsuoka (109, gold), Shon Inouye (132, bronze). Junior Aimee Shiraki, who sat out last season with a concussion, was the BIIF champ in 2011 at 220.
Matsuoka (shoulder) and Shiraki (elbow) were on the mend and didn’t compete at Kamehameha’s dual meet. Matsuoka will likely compete at 121, where the competition is pretty stiff with Vento sharpening his claws for his next foe.
Blanco is hoping freshman Justin Jennings can fill in at 108 at the BIIF team championships on Saturday at Konawaena High.
“He hasn’t made 108 yet, but he’s been holding his own at 114,” Blanco said. “He only has one loss. He’s ipponed all the other guys he’s played. He’s one of those guys who never misses practice and puts out 100 percent.”
The Wildcats count on Inouye for his versatility, relying on the junior to fill different weight classes.
“He’s one of our team captains and never complains,” Blanco said. “He does whatever he needs to do for the team. He’s got good technique and he’s one of them we put in the circle with Justin, Tanalei and Ruby. We rotate those four against each other all the time. They make each other better.”
Tiani Castaneda-Naboa played soccer and junior varsity softball. The Ka‘u freshman also decided to take on judo, another sport she never played. She’s basically the only member of the team.
There are two boys, but neither has met the mandated two regular-season matches to qualify for the BIIF individual championships, which will be held Saturday, April 20 at Waiakea High.
The BIIF team championships will be held Saturday at Konawaena High. Waiakea is the last eight boys titles and Kamehameha the past five girls crowns.
“My dad (Mervin Naboa) did judo in high school and I was interested since I was young,” Castaneda-Naboa said. “I wanted to try something new and I like the intensity of the matches.”
There isn’t much competition at her 220 weight class, about five other heavyweights, but not everyone shows up on match days.
She’s 0-5, including two losses by ippon to Shiraki. She almost won last week at Kealakehe. Though she’s just a rookie, she’ll be in running for a BIIF medal, but that’s not a big goal.
“I’m learning and getting better. That’s my goal,” she said. “I’m improving my moves and I’ve gotten better from my first match. I’m understanding what’s going on now.”
Ka‘u coach Glen Hashimoto, who was an assistant last year, knows patience will have to be Castaneda-Naboa’s best friend because she has no teammates to practice with. She’s also learning the sport from scratch.
“It’s her first year and she’s getting better,” he said. “She’s definitely hard-working and very respectful. She’s facing a lot of experienced seniors. Her first two matches were against Aimee. Hopefully, by next year she’ll be ready.”