KEALAKEKUA — Waiakea senior Skye Matsuura is not one to step away from challenges, especially on the judo mat, where she would rather walk through thorns than stop and smell the roses.
She sharpened herself at the Big Island Interscholastic Federation team championships on Saturday at Konawaena’s Ellison Onizuka Gym, where Waiakea pocketed its fourth consecutive boys title, and Hilo took the girls championship, ending Kamehameha’s six-year reign.
With only six judoka, the Warriors didn’t have the numbers to challenge the Vikings, who had nine of the 10 weight classes covered. Waiakea last captured the girls BIIF team crown in 2007, also when the boys won it.
Matsuura heads into the BIIF individual championships at 10:30 a.m. Saturday at Waiakea’s gym as the heavy favorite in the 129-pound class, after being a bigger underdog last season.
“Knowing that she’s a senior, she’s been pushing harder,” Waiakea coach Jason Tanaka said. “She’s a good example for the others. She comes to practice early, running and getting started.
“She’s a hard worker and determined. She has really good technique and she’s really strong. I think she has a good chance to take the title.”
A year ago, she had a choice: chase an easier BIIF gold at either a lower or higher weight division or face Konawaena powerhouse Tanalei Louis (now wrestling at Oklahoma City) at 129.
Matsuura got her desired tough competition, but finished second.
However, she got a better draw at the Hawaii High School Athletic Association state championships than Louis, who faced eventual champion Teshaya Alo, from Kamehameha-Kapalama, early and lost.
Making the most of her convenience, Matsuura advanced to the championship, but fell to Alo for the state title. Louis took home a bronze medal.
Matsuura comes from one of the most well-known Big Island families. She is the granddaughter of the late Senator Richard Matsuura and Dr. Ruth Matsuura.
Her parents are Andy Matsuura, who owns Pineback Landscaping, and Sonya, a pharmacist. Her judo gene is from her mom, who’s a black belt. The eldest of five children noted that she’s able to beat her mom.
“Mom mom’s advice to me was, ‘Go hard, fight hard and practice hard.’ My dad is a big supporter. He comes to all my matches, and packs my cooler, a drink and a sandwich from Subway,” Matsuura joked about the Subway sandwich being better than a homemade peanut-and-jelly.
Matsuura’s uncle is Dr. Peter Matsuura. It’s something of a final Matsuura senior farewell at Waiakea. His son is Daniel Matsuura, a senior on Waiakea’s tennis team. Another cousin is Sam Matsuura, also a senior on the tennis team.
In fact, Matsuura grew up playing tennis and started judo as a sophomore, when she won BIIF judo gold at 114 pounds. She also took up wrestling late, and seized BIIF silver at 114 pounds as a sophomore and 135 pounds in her final senior campaign.
A year later, Matsuura has another similar thorn-or-easier road choice: She can hunt state judo gold at a different weight class or stick at 129, where Alo will likely be waiting.
“I’m most proud of my second place at states, being recognized for how much hard work and practice I put him,” Matsuura said. “It’s a good feeling, knowing that everything I did worked out and paid off in the end.
“I wanted to go against Tanalei last year. That’s the reason I practiced and trained so hard. I think everything happens for a reason. I got a better draw and it worked out great for me.”
Matsuura, who has a 3.92 grade-point average, is headed to Puget Sound on a nearly a 50 percent merit scholarship for her work in the classroom. She plans to major in biology and enter the medical field.
During the past quarter, she posted a 4.5 GPA, even with AP (advanced placement) classes. Still, she couldn’t bump her cumulative to a 4.00, a missed cleaner mark that gnaws at her.
Matsuura got a B grade in Algebra II as a sophomore. There are only grades of A on the rest of her report cards. At least, she can take a big-picture perspective and take her 3.92 GPA as a lesson learned.
“Study harder, school comes first,” she said.
When her grandfather was in office, the former Democratic state Sen. Richard Matsuura often preached about the values of commitment, loyalty and honor — the three pillars that uphold judo.
That’s what his granddaughter admires and appreciates the most.
“What I like best is my teammates and coaches,” Skye Matsuura said. “Dayton Towata is a great practice partner and Stephen Ogi and Eric Onishi, our assistant coaches, help me a lot.
“Everybody on our team gets along and clicks. My whole career has been really fun.”