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Winter Sports Preview, Part 1

Although the weather is turning colder, the Molokai winter sport athletes are just getting warmed up. With the Maui Interscholastic League (MIL) winter season approaching, Molokai High’s teams are training to compete in basketball, paddling, swimming and wrestling. In a two-part series, the Dispatch takes a look at these teams as they prepare to make their mark in the MIL.

Wrestling

This season, the boys’ and girls’ teams have 19 wrestlers apiece. The girls’ roster is rife with experience, with 11 returning wrestlers, while the boys’ team welcomes a relatively young squad that includes seven returning wrestlers and six freshmen.

“The number of returning girls makes us strong ‘cause we’ve got some experience to work with,” said Coach Randy Manley, who added that this year’s squad is the biggest girls’ team he’s ever seen from the school.

Last season, the girls placed second in the MIL and eighth out of nearly 50 schools at the state championships. This year, they’ll contend for the school’s first ever MIL team title in girls’ wrestling. The coach mentioned that some key wrestlers to watch for are junior Esther Torres-Umi, who has a history of success that includes last season’s 123-pound MIL title, and senior Lahela Corpuz, who Manley said has the potential to qualify for a place at states.

For the boys, Manley has a different game plan in mind.

“Because we’re young, it’ll be a year, two years before we see any significant impact,” he said. “… Primarily, we wanna see just steady improvement throughout this year.”

Manley hopes the upperclassmen will help guide his young team to finish within the top four in the MIL. Last season, the Farmers finished third in the MIL championships, with then-junior Iokepa Albino claiming the 222-pound title. Manley believes Albino “should be dominant” again this season, along with teammate Kui Han, who finished second in the 287-pound class at the MILs.

According to the current schedule, the Farmers will have to travel to Maui for all of their meets.

“Trying to come up with the finances for all those meets is gonna be our biggest challenge,” Manley said.

Both teams will compete in 14 different weight classes, with their first regular season match at King Kekaulike High School on Jan. 17.

Swimming

Molokai’s swim teams have reason to elevate their game this season. At last year’s state championships, Hawaii swimmers broke 11 state records. The boys’ team has six swimmers hoping to compete in Hawaii’s pool of speedsters, while the girls’ team has 11 swimmers.  While the boys sent six swimmers to states last season, Ford said it’s been nearly a decade since a Molokai girls’ team qualified for states, and she wants to bring a level of competition to this year’s squad that will change that.

“That’s my goal, push them out of their comfort zone a lot, and get them to do things they didn’t know they could do,” said Ford. “It can be tricky, but I think they’re game for it.”

Ford said this year’s team is “pretty well rounded.” in terms of both strokes and distances. Four swimmers return from last season, among them captains Sabrina Curtis, the team’s “distance girl,” and Oceana Madani, whose specialty is the butterfly, according to her coach.

As for the boys, Ford said they’re requesting painful workouts, knowing they have to be in top form to compete at the state levels.

“I’ve been really impressed with their attentiveness to their strokes,” said Ford of this season’s boys’ team. “They do extra push-ups in practice. The captains are getting everybody else to jump on board … to take it to the next level.”

This season’s team is small, but Ford said “the talent is there.” She’s already noticed the promise in her two new swimmers, and the four returnees, led by captains Tanner Mosher and Luke Kikukawa, anchor the squad with their energy and “goal oriented” mindset. She said her swimmers’ strengths lie in the shorter events, such as the 50-yard freestyle, the 100 freestyle and the 100 butterfly.

Unlike in other sports, swim teams don’t accumulate a record over the season, Ford explained. Every meet offers a new chance to qualify for states. All of the teams’ meets will be away on Maui, with their first one scheduled for Dec. 13 at the Kihei Aquatic Center.

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