HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald — Members of the Waiakea girls air riflery team get a short breather during Tuesday’s state air rilfery championships at Kamehameha. Both the Waiakea girls and boys won state titles, holding off strong challenges from Oahu teams.
HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald — Lindsey Kimura, left, and Karise Kuroda get ready to shoot the standing event during Tuesday’s state championship at Kamehameha. Kuroda finished second overall.
HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald — Waiakea’s Kellie Iwasaki, the defending state champion, smiles after shooting during an event at Tuesday’s state air riflery championships at Kamehameha.
By MATT GERHART
Tribune-Herald sports writer
KEAAU — The Waiakea girls lined up to shoot as one: Lindsey Kimura, Karise Kuroda, Kellie Iwasaki and Crystal Rances.
They laughed, they cried, they encouraged and they nurtured.
The Warriors boys, Tyler Aburamen, Justin-Joe Gray, Abe Sylvester and Brentson Kinoshita, followed later but with a quieter tone.
Some were mad, all were focused.
In both cases, the rest of the state never really had a shot.
Perhaps the most dominant sports program on the island, Waiakea air riflery made its biggest mark yet.
“We couldn’t have asked for more than this,” Gray said.
The Warriors treated Tuesday’s state gathering at Kamehameha’s Koai‘a Gym just like any Big Island Interscholastic Federation competition: locked and loaded, they swept the Hawaii High School Athletic Association championships.
The teams feed off the same synergy, according to coach Terence Moniz.
“Good (assistant) coaches, very supportive parents, disciplined shooters. It’s a network, it’s a machine,” said Moniz, who took off the first half of the season then came back when interim coach Mel Kawahara left to go to China.
“I can hear coach Mel screaming from China.”
After taking second at the past two BIIF finals, Kuroda was relegated to another runner-up finish, but this one took on a whole new feel as she helped the Lady Warriors go into the record books as the only school other than Punahou or Sacred Hearts to win in the 14-year history of states.
“This time I’m proud of it,” the junior said. “I’m surprised and so happy.”
Only Punahou’s Brianna-Marie Hollister, on the strength of 12 bull’s-eyes from the prone position, outgunned Kuroda (541-537).
As usual, she had Kimura, one of her best friends, right at her side all along the way to calm her down.
“I knew she was doing good because she was in a good mood, and that’s how she is when she’s doing well,” Kimura said. “She was laughing. I was so concerned my scores were going to bring us down. But Karise’s scores brought us up.”
Kimura (13th, 507) was busy texting friends afterward. This is air riflery, after all, and she had to get the word out.
Kimura, who broke down after a poor performance in standing before rebounding during the last double shoot (kneeling), now hopes her sport will start to get a little more publicity. Especially after Waiakea became the first school to sweep states since Punahou in 2008.
“Nobody makes a big deal out of us winning states in air riflery,” said the BIIF champion. “But it is a big deal. It’s a hard sport.”
The Warriors returned three of the four shooters who finished second behind Punahou last year, and with a little help from her friends, Rances (13th, 508) filled the one void.
Humbled while shooting prone Saturday at BIIFs, she came back strong three days later.
“My teammates supported me and cheered me. It brought my confidence up, and they know that’s my weakness when I shoot,” the senior said.
Not bad for someone who only picked up the sport halfway through her high school career.
“I wasn’t doing anything, so I figured I should join something,” she said.
Iwasaki (18th, 502), meanwhile, added a team championship to the individual title she won last year.
The four-year shooter is well-versed in the Waiakea way.
“We’ve been solid for all four years,” she said. “When one shooter leaves, we fill the gap. We train people and that’s how it works at Waiakea. We’re a big family, that’s how we continuously are strong.”
In edging Mid-Pacific by 15 points, the Warriors also sent assistant coach Manu Tsue out with a fond farewell. Tsue’s been part of the program for seven years, the first four as a shooter.
“To see how (our shooters) have progressed is inspirational to me. I don’t only teach them, they also teach me,” she said.
Hilo’s Caryn Okamoto (510) was 12th, while Waiakea’s Jamie Ikeda (501) and Karyl-Lin Yamakawa (496) were 19th and 23rd, respectively, shooting as individuals.
Not to be outdone by the girls, the Waiakea boys won their second state title in three years with an entirely new cast.
They came out with their hair dyed pink for breast cancer awareness and with a resolve to match the girls’ success.
“It motivated me more to shoot better,” said Gray, who finished fifth with a 528 as all four Warriors placed in the top 11. “I was calm, cool and collected, just like at BIIFs.”
Sylvester broke his glasses in frustration Saturday and wound up second behind Gray. Wearing those same glasses Tuesday, he used a strong finish in kneeling to place third overall. In the process, the Warriors pulled away from a tie with Punahou to win by six points.
“I’m going to use those glasses from now on,” he said.
Leilehua’s Gavin Au (540) took the individual crown, finishing eight points ahead of Sylvester and Punahou’s Noah Kwock, who won a tiebreaker because of more bull’s-eyes (16-11).
Aburamen (10th, 516) started his round off “mad” and said his teammates left him alone before he cooled down. He said the message that his school sent to the rest of the state was clear: Anything can happen.
Kinoshita (514) was 11th, and teammate Cody Yamada (499) was 22nd shooting as an individual.
Also from the BIIF, Kealakehe’s Matthew Silva (495) was 25th and Konawaena’s Michael Raiano (478) took 32nd.
One thing Gray would like to see happen now is more recognition for air riflery.
“Other sports certainly are more recognized,” he said
Kimura agrees. She remembers how crazy everyone at Waiakea went last May when the Warriors’ baseball team won states.
“The airport was waiting for them to come home. They got on TV, they got a day from the mayor,” she said.
Asked what her school and community should do to celebrate Waiakea now, Kimura paused with a smile before turning diplomatic.
“It’s good enough that we won. That’s good enough for me,” she said. “The fact that we won is a prize as it is.”
And the Warriors did it twice.