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Punahou continues tennis tradition with 2 team titles

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It started with an entire island pitching in so the Carlsmith Ball/HHSAA Tennis Championships could be played Thursday. It ended yesterday with someone old, someone new, something rare and something blue — again.

Kapaa senior Chas Okamoto grabbed a title on his last opportunity and Mililani freshman Alyssa Tobita got one on her first try, at Royal Lahaina Tennis Ranch on Maui.

The rarity came when Interscholastic League of Honolulu champions Roman Kop and Marcel Chan captured Kamehameha’s first boys doubles title in 46 years. They defeated the seventh-seeded ‘Iolani team of Colin Tseng and Lawrence Ho 6-3, 6-3 in the final.

The blue was Punahou, which continued its team title domination. The Buffanblu clinched the boys title after Friday’s quarterfinals and the girls title after the semifinals. That was a day after rain threatened to wash out Thursday’s opening matches at Royal Lahaina and Lahaina Civic.

The word went out on Maui and resort courts were made available at Wailea, Makena and Kapalua. Every match was finished by 8 p.m.

The Buffanblu girls, with a lift from Tobita, edged ‘Iolani 18-16 to run their streak to nine in a row.

The boys set the high school tennis national record last year when they won their 20th in a row. This year they amassed 22 points — ‘Iolani was second with 10 — to break the Hawaii record for most consecutive titles in any sport. Rusty Komori has coached the last 18.

"Every year four or five players graduate, but it’s OK because we have such a great tradition that the guys are mentoring the underclassmen — seventh- and eighth-graders," Komori said. "They are following our team and they know the standard of excellence, so it becomes a lot easier to mold them into the players we need them to be."

The only individual title Punahou won came in girls doubles, where top-seeded Jennifer Laws and Sarah Steele stopped teammates Ashley Nakaoka and Dani Young, 7-6 (7-4), 6-2.

Laws and Nakaoka — the lone seniors on the Buffanblu roster — won the doubles title together the past two years, but opted to split up and nurture younger teammates their final season. When both teams reached the final Friday, and Tobita upset ‘Iolani’s two seeded singles players, the Buffanblu had their title.

Okamoto stopped St. Anthony senior Kento Tanaka-Tamaki, 6-4, 6-2, in a boys singles final featuring the top two seeds.

"I was down 2-4 and letting my nerves get to me," Okamoto said. "The wind started to pick up and I got more topspin on my shots. I came back to win 6-4 and the momentum was all on my side. In the second set I broke him right off the bat. That was huge."

Okamoto is also the Kauai Interscholastic Federation’s 800-meter champion. He credits his long-distance training for helping with stamina and focus. He also got an assist from Brad Lum-Tucker — the only other state tennis champion from Kauai — who hit with him last week.

Okamoto is headed to the University of Hawaii on an academic scholarship. He hopes to be teammates with Jared Spiker, who beat him in last year’s semis on the way to his second straight title. Tanaka has been invited to walk on for the Pepperdine team in the fall.

Tobita and Sarah Dvorak, the top-seeded freshman she beat in yesterday’s final, have lots of time to decide on a college. They played for 2-plus hours before Tobita won, 7-6 (7-3), 7-5. Tobita, a month younger, was down 4-5 in the first set and 0-3 in the second, but tamed the hard-hitting Dvorak with her variety and consistency.

"I was kind of nervous there," Tobita said of her second-set hole. "I told myself to remember how much I wanted it. I was thinking to myself I couldn’t give up right there. Even though there was another set I just wanted to win it."

She knew going in that Erin Hoe, who played for Mililani from 1997 to 2000, is the only player to win four Hawaii state tennis titles.

"I want to do that," Tobita said. "I know it will be tough, but I took the first step today. It was all or nothing."

Punahou’s boys lose five off their team –seniors Robin Kiyabu, Travis Yoshimoto, Colby Ing and Shaun Chow, and junior William Chen, who received early acceptance to Stanford. He will join Ing there, while Yoshimoto is headed to USC, Chow to UH and Kiyabu to Loyola Marymount, where he was recruited for tennis.


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