Sunday, January 25, 2004

Hawaii Grown Report

Lee making impact
on national level

The wrestler's coach says he is
'one of the top five or six at any
weight' in the country

WHO is Hawaii's best home-grown athlete?

When the question cuts across all sports, there is lots of room for argument.

USA decathlon runner-up Brian Clay? Two-time world pro surfing champion Andy Irons? Record-setting quarterback Tim Chang? Teen-age golf phenom Michelle Wie?

From the perspective of Cornell (N.Y.) University wrestling coach Rob Koll, the answer is clear: Cornell junior Travis Lee, last year's unbeaten 125-pound wrestling champion in NCAA Division I and the consensus No. 1 this season at 133 pounds with a record of 56-1 over the past two seasons.

"There are lots of good athletes who come out of Hawaii, but I challenge you to find another Hawaii athlete who is one of top five or six in the country," Koll says.

Not the five or six best at his weight class, but "one of the top five or six at any weight," Koll says.

Last weekend, Lee dominated two-time defending NCAA 133-pound champion Johnny Thompson of Oklahoma State and won 5-2 at the Cliff Keen National Duals in Cleveland.

"Travis is always up for big ones," Koll said. "Sometimes we worry about the ones that aren't as big on paper. When the pressure is on, you know he's going to be there."

"I feel like I wrestled well," said Lee, a 2001 Saint Louis School graduate from Liliha who is not given to lengthy statements.

Lee's 42-match win streak ended Dec. 27 in the prestigious Midlands Tournament in Evanston, Ill., when he lost to Donald Lockett of San Francisco State.

"He was traveling all day, all night, steps off plane, hops on scale and loses," Koll said, "one little slipup this year."

Lee's record this season is 22-1.

Former Saint Louis School wrestler Travis Lee took down Oklahoma State's Johnny Thompson last weekend en route to a 5-2 win over the NCAA defending champion at 133 pounds.

LEE MOVED UP from 125 to 133 pounds this season because he has gained so much muscle mass that he could not make the lower weight without losing muscle.

"He got where he is because of his intensity," Koll says. "He keeps going and going ... You can't help but root for the kid.

"He is a unique story in the wrestling world," Koll says. "It's amazing how popular he is. Kids crowd around after every match asking him for his autograph."

Lee has gotten better every year, Koll says.

"Travis used to win on sheer heart, but he has made incredible strides in technique," Koll says.

Lee sees room for more improvement. "I have some things to work on," he said, "getting better on top, keeping the pressure on, riding (controlling his opponent) better."

With such success in an Olympic year, the Athens question inevitably arises.

"I am going to put off thinking about the Olympics until the college season is over," Lee says.

Although Lee would have a short time to prepare for the Olympic Trials and the Olympic wrestling style is different from the college style, Koll says, "he can be competitive with anybody this year.

"In 2008 and 2012, he will be a gold-medal contender."

LEE'S DEMEANOR on campus is quiet and respectful -- understated -- as befits the B-minus biological-engineering student that he is.

The difference between Lee the student and Lee the wrestling champion reminds Koll of a scene in one of his favorite moves, "Monty Python and the Holy Grail."

"There's a scene where the knights are going down to hopefully find the Holy Grail," Koll said. "All of a sudden, this little tiny bunny rabbit hops out.

"They think it's so cute and it's really nice. And then the bunny rabbit hops out and rips out their throats.

"That's Travis."


Freshman 157-pounder Jonathan Spiker (Saint Louis '03) is not competing this season at Harvard to save his eligibility, coach Jay Weiss said.

Since Harvard allows students only eight semesters to complete their athletic eligibility (most schools allow 10), Spiker will have to stay out of school two separate semesters in order to have four seasons of wrestling.

At Saint Louis, Spiker was the second four-time state champion in HHSAA history and had a 142-0 record in Hawaii; his overall high school record was 166-2.

Freshman Brent Kakesako (Iolani '03 of Manoa) has moved into Harvard's starting lineup at 125 pounds after a veteran suffered a concussion.

Kakesako was the HHSAA 125-pound champion in 2002 and finished third last year at 130.

"He's a great person to have on the team, a very hard worker," Weiss said.

Ken Kakesako (Iolani '00), Brent's older brother, wrestled for Harvard for two seasons before deciding to become a full-time student. Ken will graduate this year.

Jonathan Tanaka, who wrestled for Moanalua High in 1993-94, is the head wrestling coach and a math teacher at Nottoway (Va.) High School. Tanaka was a two-time academic All-American wrestler at Longwood University in Virginia.


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