By MATT GERHART
Tribune-Herald sports writer
Waiakea air riflery coach Mel Kawahara has never shot a bull’s-eye. He leaves the marksmanship to his shooters.
Kawahara sees his role as more of a team motivator. Again, though, the Warriors muster plenty of drive on their own.
By a show of hands, he recently asked his boys and girls teams if anyone was satisfied with their scores last season. He wasn’t surprised that not many raised their hands.
“They were not satisfied,” Kawahara said. “They want to do better. They feel they can do better.”
It will be hard, however, for Waiakea to top its accomplishments from last season, when the Warriors swept the boys and girls titles at the Hawaii High School Athletic Association tournament.
But even with a target on their back, the Warriors will try.
“We all know that we can do better,” said senior Lindsey Kimura, the defending Big Island Interscholastic Federation champion. “Even more so (this season). I know that everyone is out to beat us. They’re probably working that much harder.”
Few teams put in as much time as the 33 or so shooters who take over the Warriors gym for nighttime practices. Waiakea is the only public school to win at states.
“We have a lot of people who work hard,” senior Karyl-Lin Yamakawa said. “The things that we accomplish are (the result of) 10 percent luck and 90 percent effort. It just so happens that the effort has been paying off.”
Just look at the Warriors’ trophies case. It’s so inundated with air riflery awards that there’s little room for last year’s state trophies. Those are still sitting in the athletic director’s office.
The four boys shooters who won Waiakea’s second state title in three seasons all return as seniors: Justin Gray, Abraham Sylvester, Tyler Aburamen and Brentson Kinoshita.
Gray won the BIIF championship, and then all four were among the top 11 at states, with Sylvester finishing third.
“The scores were high last year, but not where we wanted them to be,” said Gray, the boys captain. “The guys are all trying to better ourselves.”
Like his teammates, Gray takes an easy-going, low-key approach to shooting.
“It helps to be cool-headed and not freak out so much,” he said.
There are two open spots on the girls side with the graduation of Kellie Iwasaki, the 2011 individual state champion, and Crystal Rances. Kimura and senior Karise Kuroda hold down two of the spots, though they often act as one – they’re practically inseparable.
“Always and forever more,” Kimura said of the close friendship.
Kuroda is a rare three-sport athlete on the team, also playing soccer and running track, and it’s taken a toll. She’s suffered ACL tears in both of her knees over the past two years, most recently injuring her left one earlier this summer.
“My therapist says that if I work hard then I will be back,” she said.
For air riflery, Kawahara has obtained a BIIF waiver so that Kuroda can shoot two consecutive rounds while standing, instead of finishing with the kneeling position, until she gets her full range of motion back.
The prone position is considered easier, but it’s also where Kuroda has faltered the past two years in finishing BIIF runner-up. She also was second at states last season to spur Waiakea as it dethroned Punahou.
“I’ve got to stop pressuring out at the end,” Kuroda said. “The end is where I (get nervous).
“We have to keep what we’re doing, but do it even better. We know how Punahou is on our back.”
A longtime tennis player, Yamakawa took up air riflery as a sophomore for an obvious reason.
“I really like guns,” she said.
Yamakawa qualified for states the past two seasons, and this year she’s a co-captain along with Kimura and Kuroda.
“It works out well. Karise is driven and she helps motivate the team,” said Yamakawa, who’s also a captain on the tennis team. “Lindsey is always positive and energetic. Both of them are really good shooters.
“I’m kind of there as a mediator.”
Kawahara was waiting on the scores from Saturday’s 10 a.m. season-opening meet at Kamehameha before determining a girls pecking order. Juniors Maileen Nakashima and Jamie Ikeda were also in the mix.
Whomever Kawahara picks likely will be handier with the rifle than the coach.
While he’s not a shooter, Kawahara epitomizes the strong parental support that helps sustain the program. His son Eric is a former BIIF champion, and Kawahara enters his second season and takes over the full-time duties from Terence Moniz.
“I still haven’t shot a bull’s-eye, that’s for sure,” Kawahara joked. “At least I’ve shot a darn target.”