By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
Waiakea is every judo team’s worst nightmare, a rolling snowball that keeps getting bigger and better.
The Warriors have fastened a vise-grip on the boys Big Island Interscholastic Federation championship, pocketing the last eight.
They have seven returning BIIF medalists in Adam Onishi (108, silver), Joshua Ohara (121, bronze), Dayton Towata (132, gold), Alan Ikehara (145, silver), Ben Camero (161, silver), Kayed Rodrigues (178, gold) and Justin Gray (198, bronze).
Even better none of the guys are seniors. Onishi, Ikehara, Rodrigues and Gray are juniors while Ohara, Towata and Camero are only sophomores. Next year should be bright as sunshine, too.
“I think we’ll have a good shot at the BIIF title. We’ll be able to fill all but one of the 10 weight classes,” coach Jason Tanaka said. “The boys always have that drive to do well. I don’t have to get on them too much. It’s an easy bunch of kids to coach.”
It also helps when players step up to make others better, the best sign of good team chemistry. Tanaka pointed to Onishi and Towata as a pair of good examples.
“Adam is one of the team captains. He’s been in club judo for six or seven years, and is really focused,” Tanaka said. “He’s the one trying to keep practice going as it should. He’s a good role model, even though he’s smaller. He takes initiative.
“Dayton is a good role model. He sets the tone for the team, and he’s really good, both ways, at judo and as a student. He’s one of the captains as well.”
A lot of familiar faces return in the 10 weight classes. Each division will have interesting matchups. Let’s take a quick tour:
• 108 pounds: Konawaena’s Lihau Matsuoka is the defending champ. He and Onishi will likely be the two finalists again. Matsuoka will be around for a while because he’s only a sophomore.
• 114: Kona senior Justin Raymond is the defending champ. Last year, he beat Hilo’s Julian Tongpalan for the title and finished 14-0 in the BIIF. Raymond is on a quest for four golds; he took the 108 crown as freshman and sophomore. He was second at the Hawaii High School Athletic Association state tournament last year.
• 121: Hilo senior Federico Vento is the defending champ. But coach Jacob Shon said Vento could jump up a class. Should Tongpalan take his place, he’ll run into Ohara.
“Julian’s pretty technical and super fast,” Shon said. “He knows his moves, he’s quick on his feet, and if he needs to change something midway he can do that. He executes his moves pretty fluidly.”
• 132: Towata may defend his title or seek a new adventure at 145. Kamehameha senior Charlie Aina III is the runner-up. Ohara may join the 132 party, too, along with Vento.
“Federico is really good at reacting to certain situations. In wrestling, they call it scrambling if you get in trouble,” Shon said. “He’s a great scrambler. If he gets in a bad situation, he’ll get out real quick and take control. He knows how to react and counter.”
• 145: Kamehameha senior Ikaika Villanueva will likely defend his title against a Waiakea judoka, either runner-up Ikehara or Towata. However, Kamehameha coach Jenna Aina said Villanueva may announce his candidacy at 161.
If Villanueva and Ikehara were to rematch at any weight, Tanaka thinks it’ll be worth watching to see two hungry Warriors battle for gold. Villanueva was third at states last year.
“Alan’s got really good judo technique and he’s really strong,” Tanaka said. “I don’t see him as an underdog if they were to play off in the finals.”
• 161: The title is vacant. Camero, the runner-up, figures to be the favorite. But maybe Villanueva, who played soccer instead of wrestling, turns into the new front-runner.
“Ben was one of our first timers last year,” Tanaka said. “He’s one of the guys who constantly wants to learn. Win or lose, he uses that to get better. He asks what went wrong and wants to correct it. He tries to do his best all the time.”
• 178: Rodrigues is coming off back-to-back BIIF wrestling titles, so adding another judo gold would be a nice accomplishment.
“He’s another one who came out last year, and picked it up really quick,” Tanaka said. “He’s really strong, from playing football and rugby.”
• 198: Keaau junior Haaheo Chan is the defending champion. He placed fourth at states last year as a rookie. Gray was a first-time judoka last year, too. They’ll likely bump heads again with gold on the line.
“Haaheo is really strong, but I always tell the kids it’s anybody’s game. All it takes is one good throw to be over,” Tanaka said. “Justin started last year and picked up things pretty quick. I’m pretty sure he’ll make it to the finals. Hopefully, he’ll face off against Haaheo and we’ll see how it goes from there. It should be a really good match.”
• 220: Hilo senior Brayden Cruz-Silva is the defending champ. Kamehameha junior Kamalani Crum was third last year and figures to give him a good run for gold.
“Brayden’s a plain powerhouse,” Shon said. “He’s really strong, very technical and knows his moves. It’ll be a good match between him and Crum. Both are pretty tough. Crum is really strong, too.”
• 275: Zeph Pavao is the defending champ. He transferred from Waiakea to Keaau. Pavao placed fifth at states last year.
“Joyden Madriaga is our freshman heavyweight,” Aina said. “He does club judo. He didn’t wrestle, but he’s pretty strong.”