By MATT GERHART
Tribune-Herald sports writer
WAIMEA — When the meet was over but before its verdict was widely known, Keaau’s coach stood shocked in the middle of the infield as its star athlete sat on the trainer’s table on the far side of the track.
Vicky-Chai Guerpo had been walking over to check on Talon Ota when she got the news. Ota, who had just fought off cramps for a second time, was fine. But now it was Chai-Guerpo who was struggling.
She could barely breath, speak or even wrap her mind around the fact that the Cougars had repeated as Big Island Interscholastic Federation boys track and field champions Saturday.
“The kids were so on today,” she said. “I’m so proud of all of them.”
Proud enough to leave her breathless.
So much for Keaau’s rebuilding year. And suddenly the school’s once-empty championship trophy case is starting to get crowded and stands at four.
“I’m floored,” Chai-Guerpo said. “I’m absolutely floored.”
Back-to-back titles had seemed unlikely after Keaau returned only one medal winner off of a team that brought the school its BIIF title in any sport last spring. However, the Cougars do feature a large roster, which was evident at Hawaii Prep when their 82 athletes set off in celebration when its was announced that Keaau had edged Hilo by the slimmest of margins.
“It kind of does make it more special,” Ota said. “Last year we had a lot of talent.”
The senior’s three golds were equaled only by Kealakehe senior sprinter Avery Hardie-Jordan, who maintained his league dominance in the 100- and 200-meter dashes. Ota’s five medal were unmatched.
Ota, who said he figured Keaau had runner-up material earlier this season, surprised himself a bit by soaring to personal bests in winning the triple jump and long jump. He also anchored the Cougars’ 1,600 relay team in the final event of the day to put Keaau over the top.
“My teammates made a good lead for me,” said Ota, who teamed with Jeffery Ferrell, Matthew Winters and Levi Albano to win a race that Keaau had controlled for most of the season. “It was about the team.”
Ota almost didn’t have the chance to be a part of the foursome. He caught a cramp in finishing fifth in the 200, and it was bad enough that his coach had considered pulling him. Chai-Guerpo, however, said Ota begged her to let him run.
“It was kind of sketchy (for that race),” he said. “But senior year, it’s my last race; I should run it.”
He did, but the cramp set in again during his leg of the relay, and it took some mind-over-matter thinking to reach the finish line.
“I was like, ‘Oh no, not now,”’ he said. “Come on, we’re almost there. I just ran through it.”
Trailing by two points entering the race, the Cougars leapfrogged the Vikings to win 96.5-94.
Keaau scored points with top-six finishes in 15 of 16 events, though some were more unexpected than others.
Ota, who added bronze in the 400 dash, was on a 400 relay team with Winters, Desmond Donios and Kahuhipa Donner that grabbed silver. Ferrell, a sophomore, moved up a spot from last year in the 800 with a silver .
Keaau’s biggest surprise on the podium came when junior Shawn Ventura, the seventh seed, took second in the 110 hurdles behind Kamehameha freshman Tre Evans-Dumaran. Jacob Romero didn’t show up on the medal stand in the pole vault, but the junior finished fourth — Hilo’s Katon Pestano won going away — to give the Cougars four points they didn’t see coming.
“Jacob stepped up to the plate,” pole vault/sprinter coach Billie Vieira said.
Isi Holani and the powerful Vikings throwers, who placed Nos. 1-4 in the discus, couldn’t quite overcome it all.
Holani, a junior, tossed personal bests in winning the discus and shot put, and senior Josh Kirkpatrick claimed a pair of silvers.
“There are a lot of different strengths that we have on this team, but throwers are really deep,” Holani said. “We have a lot of numbers.”
If the statewide numbers going into the weekend hold, Holani’s winning throw of 164 feet, 3 inches in the discus easily will make him the second seed at the Hawaii High School Athletic Association championships, which will be held Friday and Saturday at Mililani High School on Oahu.
“Work hard Monday-Thursday, and hopefully Friday I can open up with some good throws,” he said.
Waiakea placed third. Junior runner Ian McQuate captured double gold in the 1,500 and 3,000 along with bronze in the 800, senior hurdler Michael Morikawa won the 300 and senior sprinter Colton Austria took two silvers behind Hardie-Jordan.
That’s nothing to be ashamed of considering Hardie-Jordan hasn’t lost a race in the 100 and 200 on the island the past two seasons.
He rewrote school records in both races Saturday, winning the 100 in a personal-best 10.92 and taking the 200 in a time of 22.38 that could place him in the top three seeds heading to Oahu. He took silver in the race at states last year.
Hardie-Jordan, who is headed to Yavapai Junior College in Prescott, Ariz., on a soccer scholarship, also anchored Kealakehe’s winning 400 relay team (Keoni Yates, Cyruss Cho, and Jordan Cristobal).
Christian Liberty’s Kekoa Mundo claimed the school’s first 400 gold, while Hawaii Prep’s Kellen Gillins missed out on the sub-2:00 time he wanted, but pulled away in winning the 800.