HONOLULU — Emma Taylor is unassuming and blessed with a friendly smile. That all disappears once she steps to the starting line at the 100-meter hurdles, where she’s a 5-foot-5 package of dominance.
The Hawaii Prep sophomore won her signature event at the Hawaii High School Athletic Association state track and field championships Saturday at Kamehameha-Kapalama’s campus, repeating with the same time of a year ago, 15.22 seconds.
Later in the day, Taylor earned a double gold, capturing the 300 hurdles. She took home silver last year.
She captured the 100 hurdle qualifier Friday with a 15.14, and entered Kunuiakea Stadium with the best time in the state at 15.09, a mark set during the Big Island Interscholastic Federation season.
“There was a lot more pressure because I’m the defending champ,” she said. “I had to work harder. I did a lot of work on clearing the hurdles and it paid off.
“I tend to get off to a slow start, work hard in the middle and pull ahead at the end. I really work on my speed and try to push with the three steps between the hurdles, and push hard as I can.”
Taylor doesn’t look like the typical hurdler because of her height. It makes her job tougher because she has to jump higher than everyone else. Still, she was technically clean down the stretch, where she separated from the field.
“It would help if I were taller,” said Taylor, who, nonetheless, has a vast amount of willpower as a major asset. “But I’m not, so I just work on it.”
As a freshman last year, she was a sponge, watching her teammate Zoe Sims, who’s now running at Princeton. Sims took the 1,500 with a time of 4 minutes, 36.22 seconds in the one of the greatest races in the state’s history. She and runner-up Dakota Grossman, at 4:37.23, both broke the state record.
“She was our team captain for track and cross country,” Taylor said. “She was so humble and focused. She was really an inspiration. Now that she’s at Princeton, she’s even more of an inspiration.”
Taylor is already thinking about a college, likely somewhere in the state of Washington.
As far as a goal, no surprise, Taylor is setting a high bar to push herself.
“I’d like to get under 15 seconds in the 100 hurdles,” she said. “I’d also like to be a four-time state champion. And it would be amazing to run in college.”
Hilo senior Isi Holani won the discus with a throw of 153 feet, 3 inches. It was the same distance at the BIIF championships a week ago that produced silver; Kealakehe senior Feke Sopoaga-Kioa, won BIIFs with a 155-04.
“I wanted to come out and redeem myself from last week,” said Holani, who’s looking to play football on the West Coast. “The key for me is to work hard, pay attention to details, have fun and smile. That usually works for me.
“I focus on technique and coming around with my footwork. I do a lot of lifting to help break down my spin. I felt pretty good. I didn’t know it would go that far. I was surprised.”
Sopoaga-Kioa placed fourth, even though his distance of 151 was third on the day. That’s because Friday’s preliminary throws and all field events carry over to the final.
Kamehameha-Maui’s Kauanoe Vanderpoel was second with a 152-07 from the preliminary, and Iolani’s Kamuela Borden was third at 152-03.
“It was good competition and the Big Island finally took home gold,” said Sopoaga-Kioa, who will walk on at the University of Utah. “That (preliminary carry-over) rule makes sense. That’s how they’ve always done it. All of the Big Island guys have helped push each other.”
One of the isle’s top female athletes, Kamehameha’s Casey Poe, finished her decorated high school career by scooping up gold in the triple jump as the BIIF swept the medal podium. Top-seeded Mehana Sabado-Halpern of Hilo was relegated to silver when Poe soared 37 feet, and Kamehameha’s Meagan Kualii was third.
In the girls long jump, the BIIF had half the field covered with Hilo’s Kunda Nicholson-Walker and Sabado-Halpren, Kealakehe’s Nicole Cristobal and Kualii.
It’s a simple formula to find success: speed and height translate to distance.
All four Big Islanders fell short of grabbing a medal of color; the top six receive medals.
Kualii was fourth at 17-01, Nicholson-Walker fifth at 16-11.75, Cristobal sixth at 16-11 and Sabado-Halpren seventh at 16-08.75.
However, three of the four will likely be back. Nicholson-Walker is the only senior. Kualii and Sabado-Halpren are juniors, and Cristobal is just a freshman.
The day only got better for the Vikings, who cheered on senior Carmen Garson-Shumway. She won the 800, after finishing second earlier in the 1,500.
Konawaena sprinter Luca Vartic took home three medals. The sophomore tied for second in the 100, took third in the 200 and ran on the Wildcats’ bronze-winning 400 relay team
Alysa Gamache earned two medals, claiming silver in the 100 and helping the Waveriders’ 400 relay team to bronze.
Sabado-Halpern added her second silver when the Vikings were runner-up the 1,600 relay, while Hilo’s Sione Holika was just an inch behind Iolani’s Kamuela Borden in the shot put to get silver.
The BIIF’s other medalists came in the 1,500, where Waiakea’s Ian McQuate and HPA’s Kristiana Van Pernis each were third.
The Hilo girls finished second, far behind Seabury Hall. Konawaena was the top BIIF boys team in seventh. Kamehameha-Kapalama was the title.