Here’s a really good rivalry worth watching: Kealakehe freshman Michelle Uyeda is the favorite as the No. 1 seed in girls tennis, and Hilo sophomore Emily Soares is the defending singles champion.
However, that interesting matchup for the Big Island Interscholastic Federation singles title will have to wait a year.
Soares and her sister Kelly Soares, a senior, are the No. 1 doubles seed for today’s BIIF individual championships at Holua Resort.
The younger Soares is choosing family over a chance at making BIIF history, leaving Sayo Tsukamoto’s legacy intact — at least for now.
Tsukamoto, a 2010 Kealakehe graduate, won four BIIF singles crowns and a state title at the Hawaii High School Athletic Association tennis championships in her senior year, putting her all alone in achievement.
Uyeda has a shot to match her Waverider predecessor. But her competition will get tougher next season, not only because Soares will be back, but also there’s another talented Tsukamoto climbing the ranks.
Here’s a really great rivalry worth watching a year from now: Soares as a seasoned junior, Uyeda with another layer of confidence, and freshman Sara Tsukamoto fresh on the scene with the same hunger as her older sister.
Sara Tsukamoto is an eighth grader at Kealakehe Intermediate and ranked No. 1 in the United States Tennis Association’s Hawaii Pacific division for girls 14. She’s 14th for girls 18; Emily Soares is 33rd. Uyeda is ranked 12th for girls 16s.
The BIIF girls singles title will likely be reserved for the next couple of years.
In the case of the Soares sisters, there’s nothing like shared family gold. Emily has one as the BIIF singles champ, and Kelly got a doubles crown as a sophomore in 2012. But even better, the sisters have a shot to win a title together.
Hilo didn’t qualify for the BIIF team championships last week. Kamehameha and Waiakea represented East Hawaii. The Kealakehe girls won the BIIF team title, 4-1 over Konawaena, while the Hawaii Prep boys repeated.
HPA’s J.J. Minakata is the boys No. 1 singles seed and a favorite to pocket the school’s first title since 2003, when Holden Ching won it.
Konawaena’s Anakele Apisaloma and Finn Gallagher are the boys No. 1 doubles seed. HPA’s Alec Jones and Brendan Moynahan are No. 3 and were part of the BIIF team championship 4-1 win over Waiakea.
The BIIF team championships, last week at Holua, were a preview of Kealakehe coach Chris Makaiwi’s budding girls dynasty. The Waveriders also won the title in 2012.
Uyeda is a freshman, so is No. 2 singles Fiona Miranda; both swept their matches at team BIIFs. The No. 1 doubles team is senior captain Mai Kobayashi and freshman April Wong. The No. 2 doubles team is freshman Bryanna Makaiwi and sophomore Kelcey Kobayashi; they had the lone loss. The No. 3 doubles team is freshman Teagen Travalino and senior Michelle Reed.
That’s five freshmen from an eight-player lineup, and the Waveriders are all interchangeable parts, capable of playing both singles and doubles.
Makaiwi said Uyeda has a chance to duplicate Tsukamoto, but it won’t be easy.
“Michelle hasn’t been really contested. She’s 7-0,” he said. “She’s very short, maybe 5 feet 2. Sayo was 5 feet 4. But Michelle has great anticipation and a very nice one-hand backhand. It’s strong and very difficult to deal with because she’s excellent on defense. If you hit a deep ball to the backline, that would give most players problems. But she can take it off the rise and send it back easily.
“Her backhand is very unique for girls. Girls are typically weaker and use two hands. I’ve been the coach eight years and I’ve never seen it. Michelle is more offensive than Sayo was. Sayo was known for her defense. Her defense was so good, she would fall back to it. Michelle has the ability to move forward, volley and attack at the net, something Sayo never wanted to do. They’re both well-rounded, which is rare to see in young players. That’s the comparison.”
Kobayashi and Wong also figure to be in the running for the BIIF doubles title. Last year, Kobayashi played singles and finished fourth at BIIFs.
“They’re another one that really hasn’t been contested during the year or at the championships,” Makaiwi said. “I’m certain they’ll contend for the title. If they face the Soares sisters, that would be a fantastic match. The Soares sisters are very talented players, and likewise so are Mai and April.”
Makaiwi is fond of calling his freshmen young lions, like his daughter Bryanna, an attacker whose “best deal is offense” and her sophomore partner Kelcy Kobayashi, who is “sure-handed and doesn’t miss a lot of balls,” according to her coach.
“I’ve got five out of the top eight who are freshmen,” he said. “It’s like we’re waiting for the next young lion. The majority for the players practice at Royal Kona. They’ve got a great program over there and do a really good job with the girls. The girls put in a lot of work. All our kids compete well and work hard. Those are pretty big keys in our game.
“Winning the BIIF team championship was pretty special. We’ve got a couple of seniors who’ve been with me since they were freshmen. It’s always great to win at BIIFs because that’s where all the hard work is. I told the kids, ‘If you put in the hard work, you’ll see the difference.’ The kids are really confident now.”