KEAAU — Honokaa judo coach Stephen Hall fondly remembers the 2011 Big Island Interscholastic Federation season, when motivation trumped inexperience.
Back then, the Dragons made their debut and finished third in the BIIF team championships for both the boys and girls, many of the judoka new to a sport that relies heavily on technique.
Then the Dragons fell off the map for the next two years. No one showed up and there was no team for the 2012 season and last year.
Hall has four judoka this season, not enough to challenge for the BIIF team championships, which will be held at 10:30 a.m. Saturday at Konawaena and includes the top six boys and girls teams.
Waiakea is the boys three-time defending BIIF champion. Kamehameha’s girls have won the last six league titles.
“Our first year we had a good team,” Hall said. “Then the second and third year nobody. We’re starting completely new again. They have all practiced right from the start and are doing good.”
Three of the judoka are rookies: freshman Mike Libed, sophomore J.P. Pambib and junior Jadelyn Alvarez.
Tiana Aveiro, a junior and the only Dragon with a bit of experience, missed the dual matches on Saturday at Keaau because she was taking the ACT.
Libed has a link to Honokaa’s historic 2011 team because his brother Jade Libed was a member of that third-place squad.
“My brother told me it was fun, and I wanted to come, too,” Libed said. “Coach is teaching us a lot in our first year. Learning stuff is fun. He’s taught us throws, ground work, and made my stamina longer.”
There are 10 boys weight classes, ranging from 108 pounds to 285. There are 10 girls weight classes, going from 98 pounds to 220 pounds.
With limited depth, at least the Honokaa judoka can pick and choose their weight divisions, without worrying about competing against a teammate.
The Dragons are winless on the season, but Hall is more concerned about safety, teaching his judoka how to take a fall. Running a close second is his hope that everyone has a good time.
“My goal is for them to play matches and walk away from them not getting injured,” he said. “I want them to have fun, and experience what it’s like this year. We can work on winning later.
“I emphasize the basics, nothing fancy. I’m just teaching them how to take falls and do the basics. They’re all very enthusiastic for their first year.”
Libed weighs 124 pounds, but played in the 145-pound division. He didn’t take home a victory, but felt good about representing his Honokaa team.
“We stood up for our school and only three of us played,” Libed said. “I want to learn more things and learn from my mistakes and improve. What I like best is playing against others and getting to know people.
“My goal is not to win BIIFs, but I just want to win,” he said.
Like Libed, Pambib doesn’t play any other sports at Honokaa. His inexperience didn’t stop him from having a good day in the 121-pound weight class.
“I lost to Kealakehe and Waiakea, but it was awesome playing against someone,” Pambib said. “I was nervous at first and still get a little nervous. But it was fun.”
Hall’s enthusiasm peaks when he watches his judoka apply their lessons. For him, that’s the best part about teaching — when his Dragons learn and grow.
“Jade was almost pinned in a match and she remembered to go in a circle and flip her opponent over, and she did,” he said. “They do listen and learn.
“When she first came in, I asked her if she ever thought she could throw a guy? She said, ‘No.’ But when she found out that she can do that kind of stuff, that’s rewarding.”
Alvarez joined judo for the first time because Honokaa wrestling coach Dan Whetstone suggested it would help her.
Little did she know but judo would eventually become her favorite.
“I prefer judo better. The matches go by faster,” she said. “There’s a lot more flipping. The only thing is you can’t do takedowns. But doing judo, you can hit your head.”
At the BIIF championships for wrestling, Alvarez has had run of bad luck. As a sophomore last year and in her past junior season, both times she suffered concussions and couldn’t compete.
She’s making up for lost time with judo. Alvarez is playing in the 109 division and is eyeing a title at the BIIF individual championships on Saturday, April 26 at Waiakea.
“I get along with the team and we have a lot of fun,” she said. “I want to be a BIIF champion. That’s what I want. I just have to keep practicing and give 100 percent, keep trying and never give up.”