Chase for the Championship
Moanalua sweeps state judo titles


MANOA — Moanalua made it a clean sweep at Saturday's Atlas Insurance Agency Judo State Championships.

Na Menehune captured their fourth boys team title and first since 2012, while their girls laid claim to their very first crown before a crowd of about 1,500 spectators at the Stan Sheriff Center.

In the boys' competition, Moanalua scored 78 points, while runner-up Pearl City was a distant second with 59. Saint Louis, Kapolei and Punahou posted 41, 40 and 39 points, respectively, to round out the top five.

A trio of individual champions paced Na Menehune, including brothers Noah (145 pounds) and Chase Wusstig (178). Freshman Keane Escaba won at 108 pounds to kick start their finals round.

"He got us off to a good start and the two Wusstigs kept it rolling," Moanalua coach Brandon Maki said.

Noah Wusstig, a junior, won his third individual title in three years. He defeated Pearl City's Shayden Yip by ippon (full point) 1:11 into their championship bout. The victory served as sweet redemption for Wusstig, who was unseeded at states after finishing second in the Oahu Interscholastic Association championships last weekend.

"It was kind of a hardship at OIAs. I've had a few hardships but got over it. Me and my coaches worked together and made something happen," he said.

A few matches later, older brother Chase made it back-to-back titles for himself with a win by ippon off a tai-otoshi (body drop) just 34 seconds into his final against Kapolei's Jake Brett.

"I just had to give it my all. It feels amazing because all my hard work paid off. It just feels really good. I just got really emotional after the match because I really wanted it and (Brett) and I grew up together so it was hard for me to battle out with him but I pulled through," he said.

Chase Wusstig, a senior, played up two weight classes for much of the postseason in order to give his team the best chance to win.

"It was pretty tough," he said. "Guys were really heavy, stronger than me, I would get back pains after the matches, but I just had to work my way around it and just find a way to win."

Maki, whose team went undefeated in the regular season before losing in the semifinals of the OIA team championships to Pearl City, went into his rationale for the strategic move.

"He played 145 at the (preseason) Mililani Invitational and we talked to the boys and said, ‘you gotta put the team first because if we spread out and we put you guys in good weights, you guys gotta make the sacrifice and in the end it'll show.' Unfortunately we had the setback at teams, but it all came at states and it was all worth it and they understand now to work as a team," Maki said.

Moanalua also got a runner-up finish from McCade Ho (114 pounds), third-place showings from Trigg Salvador (161) and Damein Agao (198), as well as a fourth-place finish from Dayne Takai (108).

"It was just about executing what we practice and being focused," Maki said. "Even if we had setbacks in the rounds, as long as we kept pushing forward. We knew that this is a tough tournament and every week it got harder and harder. It just took perseverance basically."

Kalani's Kailer Okura defeated Iolani's Akihiro Iwakiri by han soku make (disqualification) for his second straight title at 198 pounds. Other individual winners were the Saint Louis duo of Tyler Ibarra (121 pounds) and Joseph Chinen (132), Punahou's Nicolas Nakaoka (161) and Legend Matautia (220), as well as Mililani's Mitchell Funasaki (114) and Pearl City's Paulsson Solomon (285).

Meanwhile, Moanalua's girls pulled away from the field to finish with 92 points. Defending champion Pearl City was second with 72 points. Kalani (31 points), Waiakea (30) and Aiea (28) rounded out the top five.

Na Menehune had judoka in five of the 10 championship finals, but of them, only 115-pounder Amanda Higa came away victorious. The senior threw Maryknoll's Taylor Arakaki for ippon 2:32 into their title bout.

"I actually haven't played her before. In fact, everybody I played today, I've never played before," Higa said. "It made it interesting because I was kind of going in blind, but I knew that I had to just stick to what I knew and to just focus on that and that would help me figure out how to play better."

After winning the 98-pound state championship as a sophomore in 2016, Higa saw very limited playing time last year due to a couple of concussions.

"It feels super great, especially to finish off the season with a bang, especially after the non-existent season I had last year and I couldn't even play," she said.

Higa's vindication was certainly not lost on Moanalua girls coach Derron Maki.

"Last year Amanda was hurt. She had a concussion and so for her this moment is so special because last year she didn't get to defend her state title and so to come back a year later and to defend that and go out with a win and lead her team to the team title is such a special moment for all of us at Moanalua," Maki said.

In the same season that saw Higa win her first individual title, Na Menehune finished second as a team. Last year, they posted a 10th-place finish.

Being so close, then so far, sparked a fire in Maki's team.

"From the start this team wanted to work together, day in, day out. I'm not able to make it to most of the practices because I'm in medical school right now, so for them I would come after the practice and this girls' team would stay an extra practice that I would run for them, day in, day out, whatever time I could put in with them they'd give it back to me just as hard as I would be giving it to them," Maki said.

Moanalua captured the Mililani Invitational back in March, went undefeated through league play and won the OIA team championships last month.

"There's nothing more I can ask for. I mean, overall, we've never won the state title. The last time we won the OIA team title was probably like 20 years ago, so for us this whole season was like a Cinderella story for us. We came from the bottom and now we won it all," Maki said.

Jazmin Lazo (98 pounds), Faith Joy Okubo (154), Alana Dela Pena (172) and Kyrah Hughley (220) posted runner-up finishes for Na Menehune. They also got third-place showings from Nicole Shimizu (103), Rebekah Garcia (139) and Princess Leota (220). Jena Agena (109) and Gabby Perez (129) took home fifth-place medals, while Annicah Hong (103) placed sixth.

"I'm super proud of my team right now because we've been working so hard for this banner. We've been practicing, staying late after practices and pushing ourselves past our limits to just be ready for this moment, this moment of getting that state title banner," Higa said.

Mililani junior Mayu Wise captured her third individual title in as many years with a win by shido (penalty) over Punahou's Marisa Iha in the 122-pound final.

"It was a very tough match. She was very strong, she's very technical, too," said Wise, who had never matched up with Iha prior to Saturday.

"Me and my coaches saw her play another righty and I'm a righty, so I planned on getting the high grip, controlling her, getting my elbow down, moving to my left circling and using my feet — sasae, ouchi — and always controlling her power hand down," Wise said.

Waipahu's Precious Tampos (98 pounds), Roosevelt's Xiaolin Mai (103) and Pearl City's Jennie Fuamatu (220) each won their second consecutive championships in the same weight class.

Other individual winners were Waiakea's Liann Yamamoto (109), Kamehameha's Skye Realin (129), Kalani's Zoe Tateyama (139), Pearl City's Nina Seoane (154) and Konawaena's Kapoina Bailey (172).

Reach Kalani Takase at [email protected].




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