HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS
No quit in Watase
The Iolani wrestler goes for her fourth state wrestling championship Saturday
IF the world were a captive audience and Carla Watase were told to be on stage, the curtain would never rise.
She doesn't want the glory. Grant the Iolani senior her wish, and it would be only about the mat, the competition and her team. On the surface, she is a three-time state wrestling champion, four-time Interscholastic League of Honolulu titlist. Her legacy continued with a 36-0 record this season. She is days removed from that fourth ILH crown, and just two days away from the final state tournament of her career.
In her gut is an immense will to win. In her heart, an unending desire to blend in with "One Team," Iolani's athletic motto.
She prays before hitting the mat. For a safe match, both upon her and her foe, friends and opponents. To give her best. Then comes the hum of an inner engine, revving to full volume. Minutes before each match, before all of her 136 head-butting, forearm-shivering duels in her storied high-school career, Watase loosened up with earphones plugged in. This season, her choice of audio adrenaline is Linkin Park.
Behind the sparkly smile, you would never know it. Watase is ready to mix it up.
Why does it feel like night today?
Something in here's not right today
Why am I so uptight today?
Paranoia's all I got left
"Paper Cut" by Linkin Park is mad noise that gets Watase amped up, but it's the 10 years of learning classical music on the piano that taught her discipline. She is a perfectionist to the core, and it is genetic.
David Watase, her father, was a young judooka who attended Our Redeemer School before transferring to Saint Louis in high school. He stumbled upon the wrestling program late, joining as a junior and learning the ropes. His senior season was a bust after he broke a leg playing a pickup game of tackle football.
It didn't matter. David had already become a wrestling addict, absorbing every nuance of knowledge, so much so that he helped younger brother Craig morph into a state-champion contender.
Carla had no idea, at 12, that she would become a dominant wrestler with a 134-2 record in Hawaii. She was immersed in soccer and basketball. Wrestling was that thing that Dad did back in the day.
He slowly talked her into it, picking her up every day from Kaimuki Christian School as a seventh grader. They drove across town to Iolani, Roosevelt, any place that would let the diminutive youngster work out after varsity practices were done. She learned the work ethic of Saint Louis' boys. Among them were Jonathan Spiker, Travis Lee and Brandon Low, not yet state champions, but working hard while almost nobody watched.
"Watching Saint Louis train and seeing how hard they worked, that rubbed off on me," Watase said, who wrestles in the 108-pound class.
By the state tourney of that year, something clicked in her mind. Tanya Miyasaki of Castle had taken the 98-pound crown.
"She says she doesn't remember telling me this," David said. "But when we were driving home after the state championships, she told me, 'Dad, I can do that. I can compete with her.' "
In time, Carla worked out with Miyasaki and did more. Extra running. Technique revisions. Video study. Competition in ILH open tournaments. National events. All to raise the bar long before she ever donned the uniform for Iolani.
"She'd work out with Iolani's intermediate team. (Coach) Carl Schroers had just retired from varsity," David said. "That's like Cal Lee coaching a Pop Warner team!"
Legendary names meant little to Carla back then. She went along with the workouts.
"I tell her, 'As long as you give your best, I'm happy,' " David said. "She says, 'Not, you're lying dad.' "
For all her early ambivalence, Carla developed a passion for the sport on her own. She carried a 4.3 grade-point average last quarter and is aiming to continue her career at Pacific University (Ore.). She can't bring herself to raise her voice much, even as a team captain, but leadership is in her bones.
Everybody has a face that they hold inside
A face that awakes when I close my eyes
A face watches every time they lie
A face that laughs every time they fall
"SHE SCARED ME," eighth-grader Rachel Ono admitted.
The former Kaimuki Christian student looked up to Watase years ago, amazed by the wrestler's ability and strength.
"I was smaller then, and she's so good," said Ono, who eventually became a wrestler as well. "Carla showed me how to have a good attitude. She's helpful and teaches us moves."
Watase doesn't know her win-loss record. It was coach Yoshi Honda and his staff who kept track of her string of success.
"She's such a humble, nice girl. It took a lot for her to step up," said Honda, now in his 10th year as head coach at Iolani. "She leads in a silent, effective way. When they're on the mat, they look for her.
"We're fortunate to have her. The only reason she and her younger sister (Kari) are at Iolani (instead of Saint Louis) is that they're girls."
Each Sunday morning, the Watase ohana is at Honolulu Christian Church. From Monday to Friday, they are out the door at 5:30 a.m., have breakfast at their grandmother's house on St. Louis Heights, then roll downhill to Iolani. Grandma, Gerri Watase, never wanted her girls to wrestle, but the ritual continues. Soon another ritual will end: Watase's career as a Raider will be complete on Saturday. Win or lose, she would like to end it as quietly as she started.
"She would rather not be publicized. Anything can happen, deep inside she's anxious," David said.
All the work warrants a little recognition, maybe. After all, nothing has been given to her.
"There were times when I wanted to quit," she said of those early years. "But I'm really glad I didn't."
Learning under Honda, a three-time state champion at Radford, has brought out the best in her.
Honda still delivers the moves that made him a champ, but the culture of wrestling at Iolani goes beyond technical mastery.
"Coach is one of the best in the state. He's really inspiring. He's a really cool coach and he makes wrestling fun. He'll joke and make us laugh," Watase said.
And she'd do it all over again in a heartbeat.
"You have to take opportunities wherever you can find them," she said. "And never quit."