By MATT GERHART
Tribune-Herald sports writer
Waiakea senior Madisyn Uekawa has been swimming — and winning — since she was 10.
She’s been swimming for her club team, and she’s been swimming for the Warriors. Next year, she plans to swim in college.
Somewhere along the line, though, she admits swimming started to feel a little old. Her coaches took notice, but Uekawa said a rest was only natural.
“It’s hard for everybody at some point. I’ve just been swimming for so long,” Uekawa said. “But I got it back. I feel like I’m coming back. I just took a little break.”
When she’s at her peak, she’s been the gold standard during her Big Island Interscholastic Federation career. Uekawa’s gone six for six in individual races at the championships, including three straight in the breaststroke.
Her best time in her signature event actually came in a rare loss. She was outtouched by 15 one-hundredths of a second in a duel with Iolani’s Aja Grande at the Hawaii High School Athletic Association championships last May on Maui, costing her a chance at a state three-peat. Grande is a junior this season.
“You’re not going to always win,” Uekawa said. “But when you do (lose), you just use it to make yourself better. You know what mistakes you made and you try to improve on that.”
Her club coach, Jon Hayashida, also considers Uekawa the best butterfly swimmer on the island. She’s set to swim that event today during a meet at Kamehameha, but she’ll let teammate Akemi King handle that discipline when the league championships roll around Feb. 2 so that she can again give Waiakea points in the 50 freestyle.
“That was my best event when I was younger,” Uekawa said. “I always liked that event.”
The Waiakea boys don’t feature a standout like Uekawa, but that didn’t hurt them last year. They return one league champion as well, sprinter Adam Hill (100 freestyle), and they look primed to follow a similar strength-in-numbers blueprint to the one they used last year to prevail at BIIFs.
“We’re kind of the same way this year,” coach Bill Sakovich said. “It is not going to be easy. We’re going to have to count on the all the kids.”
Uekawa was Waiakea’s only individual winner last Saturday at the Hawaii Prep Invitational. But in what they hope was a BIIF preview, the Warriors’ depth, particularly on the boys side, helped them emerge as the winner. Waiakea’s boys won two relay events and took second in the other. Hill was second in the 50 and 100 sprints.
Ren Kuwaye-Tamanaha is among the league’s top contender in the 200 individual medley, and Brandon Rimando (100 breaststroke) and Christopher Hu (100 butterfly) also finished runner-up at BIIFs last year. Kuwaye-Tamanaha, Rimando and Hill team up with Jacob Williams and Aaron Gonzalez to power the relay squads.
“I don’t know if we can win any of them (at BIIFs),” said Sakovich, figuring on stout competition from Hilo High. “But we can certainly take second.”
The Warriors also will look to Jin Harbour, Gavin Sako and Teddy Uekawa, among others, to provide points.
Gonzalez, a nonclub swimmer, is perhaps the most improved performer on the roster.
“He doing really well,” assistant coach Justin Pierce said. “He has a shot of being the first nonclub swimmers to make states for (Waiakea).”
When Waiakea broke down the scoring from the HPA invite, it found that Kealakehe edged out the Warriors in the girls race, just as it did at BIIFs a year ago.
Madisyn Uekawa helps make Waiakea a prime contender in the medley and 200 freestyle relays, working with King, Jayna Jobes, Kasey Kawakami and Kirstie Flores-Oishi.
As for her next stop in college, Uekawa is considering Seattle University and Whitworth University in Spokane, Wash., and she said she had a partial scholarship offer on the table from the University of Hawaii.
She’s had a break, but now she’s ready for a final high school sprint.
“Yeah, it went by pretty fast,” Uekawa said.