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Akamine does it all


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POSTED: Wednesday, January 07, 2009

As a youngster growing up in Waipahu, 'Iolani wrestler Keiko Akamine was painfully bashful. So shy in fact, that her mother Susan felt the need to place her in every activity around to get her young daughter to break out of her shell.

Early in her life, Keiko tried it all, and has since blossomed in a big way, becoming one of the most formidable grapplers in Hawaii.

"I was really, really shy," Akamine said. "My Mom put me in everything to try and get me to be more social and come out of my little shell. You name it, I did it—Girl Scouts, dancing, soccer, softball, gymnastics, judo—yeah, everything."

As a freshman, Akamine won the first of her three consecutive Interscholastic League of Honolulu individual crowns, and advanced all the way to the state championship match, where she lost to Castle's Candace Sakamoto in the 98-pound weight class. It was an awakening for Akamine.

"After I got pinned in the final my freshman year, I was talking to my Dad about how I wanted to be a four-year champ," Akamine said. "When that went out the window, we decided the next best thing was to come back and not just win matches, but dominate them and leave no doubt."

Akamine has lived up to it, winning the past two state championships at 103 pounds in impressive fashion. As a sophomore, Akamine ran through the field at the state meet, winning by pin in her preliminary match before racking up victory margins of 20-2, 15-0 and 15-0 en route to her first state title.

Last season, Akamine stepped her game up one more notch, following another league title with a memorable performance at the state championships, winning on three consecutive pins before outpointing Kamehameha's Macy Yonamine 4-2 in the finale.

"She has an enormous amount of weapons," said veteran 'Iolani coach Carl Schroers, who returned to the helm of the Raiders wrestling program this season. "She is very fit and very strong for a tiny young lady. She can shoot attacks in both directions or come right at you. She can lift (opponents) very well, and can juke kids as well. If she gets on top, it'll be long day for you on the bottom. Nobody can hold her."

  AKAMINE GOT HER start in wrestling in curious fashion. Like many other high school wrestlers in Hawaii, Akamine began in judo as a youngster. Soon, her prodigious talent was discovered by Schroers and his staff.

"I started with judo when I was in the first grade," Akamine said. "I was a gymnast then, but my brother was (wrestling). I went and watched him and I really wanted to do it, so Mom signed me up. Then in the sixth grade, we were just wrestling in P.E., and coach saw me and Oli (Raiders senior Olivia Fatongia) and asked us to train with the high school team. It was pretty fun, the whole team was great to us and it made me fall in love with the sport."

  ALSO A TWO-TIME state champion at 103 pounds in judo, Akamine has had success wrestling at the national level, too. Entering this season ranked fourth in the nation in her weight class by the United States Girls Wrestling Association, Akamine has fared very well in four national championship events.

Akamine placed fifth at 106 pounds at the 2006 USGWA Junior National Championships in Lake Orion, Mich., following her freshman year at 'Iolani, and placed second at 95 pounds at the Asics/Vaughan Junior Women's National Freestyle Championships later that summer in Fargo, N.D.

"It was really nerve-wracking the first time I went to Fargo as a freshman," Akamine said. "I thought states was a big deal with six mats going at once, then I get to nationals and there's 25 mats running. It made going to states a lot easier and helped make me a lot more comfortable on the mat."

A year later, Akamine returned to the Junior Nationals at 102 pounds and placed seventh in the event before placing third at 95 pounds this past July in Fargo.

"There's no doubt she's one of the best wrestlers in the state of Hawaii, and there's been an awful lot of good talent here, including some who have gone on to wrestle at the international level." Schroers said. "Keiko has national-level work ethic and national-level athletic ability. The question is what she wants for her future, because she's a lot more than just a good athlete."

  AKAMINE HAS BEEN exemplary in everything she has done during her high school career. A 3.5 student taking an advanced placement course load, she is also a member of the executive committee for 'Iolani's prestigious "I Club," and president of the school's Psychology Club as well. She is a role model for those around her.

With graduation looming, Akamine is still deciding on what she wants to do after high school.

"I've been struggling with it since the beginning of the year," she said. I would like to major in psychology and East Asian studies in college, and wrestling opportunities for women are limited. My father and (former 'Iolani head) Coach (Yoshi) Honda wanted me to consider going to train at the Olympic Training Center after high school and put school off for a little while, but I'm not sure that's what I want to do."

Schroers doesn't think Akamine will have any problem doing whatever she chooses.

"She is a talented athlete, she's enormously respectful, she's intelligent, and more than that, Keiko is a really, really good person," Schroers said. "I wouldn't mind having her for a few more years at 'Iolani, but I don't think that's going to happen."