By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
Once upon a time, not too long ago, Waiakea was king of boys golf, winning the Hawaii High School Athletic Association state championship five out of six years, including four in a row from 1998 to 2001.
When that dominance dimmed, the Warriors showed that they’re still pretty good on the local scene. They’ve pocketed the last nine Big Island Interscholastic Federation titles. During that span, only Chad Suzuki claimed the individual crown in 2011.
The Warriors captured all those titles on the combination of teamwork and depth, each playing equal parts. Players pushed each other to improve. The starters could never get complacent because someone was working hard to take their job.
While other schools featured better singular talent, the Warriors always had the best team. Five players shoot and four Warriors always contributed the lowest scores. It’s simple cut-throat math, not only winning a match, but also making the lineup.
But times change. Good players graduate. And Waiakea looks a lot different, under first-year coach Alika Toledo.
“We’re young — no seniors, three juniors, three freshmen and nine sophomores — and very inexperienced,” Toledo said. “Brent Kinoshita (a junior) is the only one with BIIF experience. Only one boy, freshman Trevor Hirata shoots steadily in the 70s. Everyone else struggles to break 90.
“It’s not one of the stronger teams this year. There are a lot of beginners. I’m not cutting anyone this year. I don’t want the kids to get frustrated. I want golf to be a positive for them. But it’ll be a learning process.”
At least, Toledo can count his lucky stars that he has depth — something girls coach Sandra Goodale lacks. She has only three golfers (seniors Ciera Min and Shaina Mizusawa and junior Andi Igawa), but they’re all BIIF title contenders.
Konawaena senior Ryley Chong is the defending BIIF individual champion. A lot of his top challengers are gone, including Suzuki and Hawaii Prep’s Andrew Paisley, who finished runner-up all four years, losing last season by one stroke and in 2011 in a playoff to Suzuki.
Toledo knows how to build a program from scratch. He was on Waiakea’s state championship team in 1983, the school’s first title for any sport. The next year, he won the state title.
He later golfed at UH-Hilo and Texas Wesleyan University. Before talking about the fundamentals of golf, he stressed the academic part that got him into college.
“I traveled all over America and played in the PGA Junior Championships, got to go up to Canada, played on courses where they held the PGA Championships,” Toledo said. “Golf has always been a plus for me. So hopefully, these kids can understand where golf could take them, not only physically, but education-wise.
“College is not cheap. If you get a golf scholarship, I do want the kids to remember that the best golfer can’t play in any matches, if he doesn’t have the grades.”
He’ll be more than a coach. Teaching will be part of his job, too. If patience is a virtue, Toledo and his guys will major in that subject.
“Right now, we’re working on little goals. First of all is proper ball contact. We’re working on hitting the greens in regulation,” he said. “Our second goal is cutting down on our three-putts. Our third goal is to become better chippers. We’re starting very small this year with goals. We’re trying to stay simple. We want to get the ball rolling again for Waiakea High School.”
As any weekend duffer knows, the fastest way to balloon a score is to miss a green, chip over a green or not get on the green, and then three-putt.
Luckily for the inexperienced Warriors, there are no sand traps — the worst place to be for rookies — at Hilo Muni, site of today’s BIIF season-opener.
Toledo is realistic, too. He understands there won’t be an Al Michaels’ “Do you believe in miracles?” moment, a bunch of U.S. amateurs pulling a major upset of a stacked Soviet team in hockey, for Waiakea.
“The BIIF title is a long shot,” he said, then turning to the team’s strength of optimism. “It is what it is. But that’s good for me. I have a young group. It’s a challenge for me. But I look forward to the up-and-coming years.”