By MATT GERHART
Tribune-Herald sports writer
WAIMEA — For the second consecutive week, Kristiana Van Pernis was running with a fever or sorts, only this time it was the kind that slowed her down.
The Hawaii Prep senior wasn’t at 100 percent for Saturday’s Big Island Interscholastic Federation cross country meet, not with a temperature that hovered near triple digits. But when she wanted to feel better, all Van Pernis had to do was look behind her at the sea of Ka Makani red jerseys in close pursuit.
The reinforcements had arrived.
“We talk about gaps for runners 1-5, and today was our smallest gap,” she said after finishing third. “It’s a really cool thing. It’s really, really great to have your team there, and you know the girls well and you feel a lot more supported.”
And with a plentiful roster of 35 girls, HPA’s support system runs strong.
“It’s pretty funny when they’re lining up,” coach Michael Franklin said. “Our school only has 400 kids, and we look like a football team out there.”
If only he hadn’t lost five runners to attrition.
“It’s really close,” he said. “The football team has got us beat in numbers because of their managers.”
Many come to run, others come to stay in shape and some are trying to fulfill the school’s fall sports requirement. But whatever the reason, Ka Makani’s depth again will make them the unquestioned team favorite at the BIIF championships on Oct. 19.
“We have a lot of fun,” Van Pernis said. “We’re sort of a big presence around school. We have our tie-dyed shirts, and everybody knows what that means. It’s becoming a good sport to join.”
A week earlier at the Iolani Cross Country Invitational on Oahu, Van Pernis also said she wasn’t at 100 percent — more like 200 percent. Going up against Hawaii’s best in a field that also included mainland teams, Van Pernis covered the 3-mile course in 18 minutes, 39.02 seconds — easily her personal best. She was second among state runners behind only Seabury Hall’s Dakota Grossman, the three-time defending Hawaii High School Athletic Association champion.
“Amazing performance,” Franklin said. “The higher the competition, the better runners like her are going to perform.”
Franklin said he used to have to take his runners off the island by necessity so that they could be tested. And that strategy certainly paid off in the end, as state runners-up finishes in 2010 and 2012 were sandwiched around a 2011 title. But now Ka Makani can stay home and find all the competition they need.
“The Big Island is catching up,” Van Pernis said. “Where we used to have two top runners, now we have seven.”
Last season at states, HPA had three runners in the top 10 in Zoe Sims (fifth), Erin Evans (seventh) and Van Pernis (ninth), but this time around Franklin said BIIF girls could easily account for half of the top 10, if not more.
In his mind, it’s the strongest running league in Hawaii this year, and he’s not just talking about his harriers.
“They all know each other and run together and push each other,” he said. “It’s kind of a golden age right now.”
The golden girl Saturday at HPA was Hilo junior Mehana Sabado-Halpern, who ran her personal best on the hilly course for the second time this year. It was her first league victory of the season, though she had been the highest BIIF finisher at a meet that included mainland teams.
Sabado-Halpern was motivated by Van Pernis’ performance a week earlier.
“It made me want to improve my time more,” she said.
But she also wanted to hold off hard-charging teammate Carmen Garson-Shumway. And unlike an Aug. 31 meet at Waimea in which her friend ran her down, Sabado-Halpern had plenty left in the tank to relegate Garson-Shumway to runner-up.
“I think I had a good burst of energy at the end,” Sabado-Halpern said. “Usually at the end, Carmen beats me, so I knew to prevent that I had to go sooner.”
There was nearly a 50-second gap between Garson-Shumway and Van Pernis. St. Joseph’s Sol Kislig was fourth, and she was followed by a legion of Ka Makani: Kelly Ulrich, Taru Aitola, Veronica Ladwig and Sabrina Disney.
Kislig’s name has been in the top five at most meets this season, making her the favorite to win a Division II title at the league championships. HPA will compete in Division I.
The boys race was predictable. Waiakea’s Ian McQuate (18:33.31) set the pace again and is unbeaten in the BIIF, while Kealakehe’s Thunder Frost (18:39.29) was second for the third time.
Defending BIIF boys champion Tony Connors of Honokaa was back in ninth, but Dragons coach Jeri Moniz didn’t sound too concerned.
“They’re working hard, and they’re real excited about it,” she said. “Every week they get better.”