By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
It was only a few minutes into Waiakea’s practice, and wrestlers Alan Ikehara, Kayed Rodrigues and Jasmine Iuta had already worked up a good pile of perspiration.
They are all unbeaten in Big Island Interscholastic Federation competition, and share a similar passion for practice, which takes place at the school’s cafeteria, the workshop for sharpening skills.
Ikehara is a self-made improvement project. He did well when he didn’t know much. Last season, as a rookie wrestler, he was second at the BIIF championships in the 140-pound weight class.
The 5-foot-6 junior has jumped up two divisions to 152. He’s had a little trouble cutting weight. But he’s found comfort at his new home, and remains hungry.
“I want to do better. I have to practice harder,” said Ikehara, who dabbled in judo as a youngster and only tried out for wrestling last year. “I wanted to try something new. My dad encouraged me to come out. It’s challenging and makes you work hard.”
At the Hawaii High School Athletic Association state tournament, he lost his first two matches and quickly became a spectator. He learned that sometimes it’s not easy being green.
But he’s determined to follow the most basic blueprint to success: work hard.
“I want to win BIIFs and place high at states,” he said. “It’ll take more hard work, a lot of it.”
Despite his relative inexperience, Ikehara shines at the fundamental part of wrestling, the nuts and bolts that are essential to establish superior position, something Waiakea coach Stan Haraguchi preaches.
“Alan is always in good position,” Haraguchi said. “Most of wrestling is being in good position and capitalizing on an opponent who’s in bad position. He’s doing a great job of that already.”
Like Ikehara, Rodrigues emphasizes the nutritional value of practice. It’s good for you, like eating vegetables. That’s the best way to get better, the junior in the 171-pound class reasons.
After all, Rodrigues has a track record of improving. He’s the defending BIIF champion and was third as a freshman. But he’s 1-4 at states, earning a win last year, but failing to get into medal contention.
“I know I have to show up at practice every day and practice hard every day,” he said. “Perfect practice makes perfect. Practice makes your technique better and makes sure you don’t gas out at your matches.
“Wrestling teaches you dedication. It helps with everything. It gives you the drive to push on when you’re feeling tired or fatigued. My goal is to place at states.”
Rodrigues also plays football, so he has no problem tackling someone to the mat. He also competes in judo at Waiakea, so the throws, takedown moves and grappling holds work in a symbiotic relationship for both sports.
Haraguchi likes the way Rodrigues has upgraded in the all-important Department of Intangibles.
“His work ethic has vastly improved since he first got here,” Haraguchi said. “His grasp of technique and what he’s doing is pretty impressive.”
Over on the girls side, senior Jasmine Iuta leads the charge. She’s the defending 155-pound BIIF champion. She was fifth at states last year, her best finish.
“My goal is hopefully placing higher at states, and capturing my second BIIF title,” said the Kamehameha transfer, who took up the sport in seventh grade at the private school’s middle-school program.
She’s one of three girls at Waiakea. Daysha Towata (140 pounds) and Charissa Okamura (121) are the other two. Iuta finds herself practicing against Ikehara, who presents the challenge of speed, or Rodrigues, who wields muscle.
“Their styles help me be diverse,” Iuta said. “They make me adjust to them. In the past three years, I would outmuscle my opponents. With Kayed, there’s no way I could outmuscle him. I have to work around that and use technique.
“Most times (at BIIF meets) I try new moves to see what works for me. I’ll work on technique. Even against less experienced opponents, I push myself and them at the same time.”
Waiakea’s roster is filled with inexperience, outside of Ikehara, Rodrigues and Iuta. The team’s practices are repetitive, like a blacksmith hitting a piece of metal over and over. Maybe one day a sword gets sharp and green turns into gold.
But like his three unbeaten wrestlers, Haraguchi values the hard work, especially at practice.
“We try to keep things as simple as possible,” he said. “It’s pretty boring. We run the same things every day. We tell them to take what’s available and don’t force anything. We want them to always try to do their best.”