BIIF tennis: Hilo boys, Waiakea girls use depth to win team titles
Hilo always had an ace in the hole with Gil Assi, who’s good enough to beat any BIIF foe on the tennis court, but lacked the depth to bring home a team championship.
That’s no longer the case.
On Saturday at Holua Tennis Center, the Vikings defeated Kealakehe 4-1 to capture their first BIIF boys team title since 2006.
“Similar to the Waiakea girls, we had a pretty good group of freshmen who came in,” Hilo coach Wayne Yamada said. “That deepened the team a little bit, and we have good returnees.
“Gil is the defending BIIF singles champ. He’s solidified his spot, and a lot of the kids play Junior tennis. That’s a big plus for us.”
No surprise, the Waiakea girls blanked Hilo 5-0 to seize their first BIIF championship since 2011.
Last year, the Viking boys were on the wrong side of history when Konawaena beat them 3-2 to pocket its first BIIF title since 2000.
At the BIIF team championships, coaches will throw curveballs with their lineups, hoping for favorable matchups.
It worked for Hilo, which stuck Assi in No. 3 doubles with Ryan Liu. They won their match and so did the No. 2 doubles team of Blake Fukunaga and Brad Nakamura.
Hilo’s Li Aki and Luke Hamano took their singles matches while Kealakehe’s lone victory was its No. 1 doubles team of Brett Guccione and Ziggy Bartholomy.
In the semifinals, Hilo edged Hawaii Prep 3-2 in a match filled with strategy.
Assi cruised in No. 2 singles, and Zachary Kamiyama and Jack Petrison prevailed in No. 2 doubles.
HPA’s No. 1 singles player David Welch-Keliihoomalu and the No. 3 doubles of Hayden Virtue and Zane Willman won.
In No. 1 doubles, Aki and Hamano earned a pivotal 7-6 (4), 3-3 (retire injury) over Ryo Minakata and Eric Guo.
Minakata, HPA’s No. 1 singles player, pulled a cramp running and covering space in a match that was turning into a marathon.
While strategy plays a part, with all the mixing and matching, so does fitness and mental sharpness.
“Our boys assistant Chris Brilhante does a good job keeping them in shape and mentally motivated,” Yamada said. “He does a great job keeping them going.
“For our league, we can put the kids anywhere. It’s a guessing game, and you want to make the right matchups. Sometimes, it works and sometimes it doesn’t.”
In the girls semifinals, Waiakea took down Kealakehe 3-2 behind the strength of its depth in doubles.
The Waveriders have two strong singles players in April Wong and Michelle Uyeda. Both swept in straight sets.
Waiakea’s No. 1 singles player, Keilyn Kunimoto, paired with Kiani Nishimoto in No. 1 doubles, which reinforced the rest of the lineup.
The No. 1 Warrior doubles team of Anna Oda and Maile Brilhante split up and joined Miya Yanagisawa and Chloe Termaoto, respectively.
In dominant fashion, depth won out.
Of course, Assi will be the favorite and No. 1 singles seed at the BIIF individual championships, which will be held Thursday-Saturday at Holua.
Minakata, whose brother JJ Minakata won BIIF titles in 2014 and ’15, will be a contender and Kohala senior Jamesen Keyes, last year’s league runner-up, will make noise as well.
“Gil has a lot of mental toughness,” Yamada said. “He does a lot of individual work, not only on the court but off as well. He’ll watch video to pick things up. He’s a pretty good student of the game. He likes to study to make himself better.”
In girls singles, Konawaena junior Tayvia Yamagata is the heavy favorite. She’s undefeated and already has a championship resume.
Last year, Yamagata won a BIIF doubles title and finished runner-up at the HHSAA tournament, where there’s unfinished business for her.
But first, she has to get through the meat grinder of the BIIF individual championships, where mixing and matching sit on the sidelines and the best come ready to play.
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