Talented trio pocket gold medals
By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
KEAAU — Records are meant to be broken, but it doesn’t happen every day that someone sets a new Big Island Interscholastic Federation swimming mark two days in a row — unless you’re Hilo senior Beth Tsuha.
At the BIIF championship trials on Friday at Naeole Pool, she clocked in at 52.60 seconds in the 100-yard freestyle, setting a league and championship record.
She wasn’t finished on her mission to go faster.
On Saturday at the BIIF championships, she whittled her time to 52.43, winning gold for the third straight year. And that’s not even her best event.
She’s better at the 200 free. She won that, too, also her third gold for her career. Tsuha is the defending state champion in the 200 free.
Last year, Tsuha was third in the 100 free at the Hawaii High School Athletic Association state championships. She doesn’t hold the BIIF record for the 200 free. Nobody’s perfect, after all.
Hilo coach Jon Hayashida wasn’t surprised that Tsuha improved her 100 free time, not in the least.
“The philosophy that I told the kids is you’ll swim fast today, but you’ll swim faster tomorrow,” he said. “That extra adrenaline pushes you harder. Every single one of our swimmers has gone faster.”
For her part, Tsuha was humble pie, reflecting more than glowing about her double gold haul.
“I’m surprised. After Friday I didn’t think I could go faster,” she said. “There are fast people on the island. But in the race you get adrenaline. That helped and my mental mindset. It’s to try your best and see what happens.”
Tsuha got a good challenge from Hawaii Prep senior Anu Nihipali, who dropped her 100 backstroke which she won last year at BIIFs to swim in the 100 free and 200 individual medley. Nihipali clocked in at 53.88 and captured the 200 IM in 2:10.16.
The Hilo senior believes it’ll be tough to repeat in the 200 free at states. But she maintains her optimism, her best weapon next to her big heart.
“There are a lot of young kids on Oahu who are really fast,” Tsuha said. “The competition over there is pretty stiff. But I’ll go in with a positive attitude and try my best. That’s what works for me.”
Hilo senior Christian Kubo seized gold in the 100 breast in 58.03 over teammate Cody Hamane, who clocked in at 1:03.12, setting league and BIIF championship records.
Waiakea senior Madisyn Uekawa didn’t break any records, but she dominated as usual in her specialty, the 100 breaststroke. She won in 1:07.33 over Kealakehe’s Cara Jernigan (1:08.21) and Madeline Foo (1:11.72).
It’s Uekawa’s fourth gold in the 100 breast. She set the league record in 1:05.77 last year and the BIIF championship mark in 1:06:03 in 2011. She pocketed the 50 free, her third gold of her career. She has a BIIF title for the 100 free, making her 8 for 8 in individual events.
Uekawa was also part of Waiakea’s gold relay teams, the 200 medley and free. The team effort had her feeling a complete sense of accomplishment.
“It means a lot to me, not just the wins but the whole journey,” she said. “I wanted to do it for the team. People don’t think of swimming as a team sport, but it is. I really care about the team. We bond with each other, see each other at school and the pool. “All the points, especially with the relays, means a lot to me and to them.”
At states last year, she was second in the 100 breast and the 100 free. But she’ll do the 50 free at states as her second individual meet when she should be healthy.
“I was sick the whole week,” Uekawa said. “I only practiced twice. I’m feeling a lot better. I’m hoping to be healthy at states. That’s what I need.”
The day’s other double gold winner was Hilo junior Ryan Bisel, who won the 200 IM in 1:59.14 and 100 backstroke in 54.93. It was also a four gold afternoon with wins in the 200 medley and 200 free.
He was already thinking about sharpening himself for states. Last year, he didn’t make the finals. So the gold had a temporary good feeling.
“I’ve trained really hard, going to morning practices Monday, Wednesday and Fridays,” he said. “I think everybody did a great job. There are a few things I need to work on like getting in and out of the walls faster and cleaning up with my arm when it enters the water.”
That was the theme of the day, with everyone trying to go faster, with Tsuha setting the bar — not once but twice.
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