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Akana, Char on the mark


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POSTED: Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Familiarity also breeds a pretty good state tournament.

Clarissa Akana became the first person to win consecutive individual titles and the Punahou boys team won its fifth straight championship yesterday in the Hawaii High School Athletic Association/Civilian Marksmanship Program Air Riflery Championships at the Blaisdell Exhibition Hall.

Akana, a senior, shot a tournament-high 548.20 as she helped her Sacred Hearts squad take back the girls team championship. Buffanblu senior Alexander Char shot 532.13 and took the boys individual title as Punahou maintained its half-decade hold on school honors.

And anyone who uses the phrase “;shoots like a girl”; better beware. The top three wahine scored better than the first-place finisher in the boys event. Punahou's Christie Obatake placed second with 542.14 and Chelsie Wong of SHA placed third, shooting for a 538.17 score.

Jayson Lum of Saint Louis shot a 522.08 for second-place honors, followed by Alexander Kimura, who finished with 520.08 for Punahou.

In the 10-year history of the tournament, it's been either Sacred Hearts or Punahou winning the girls team honors. Punahou, the reigning champion has won four of those titles. The Sacred Hearts shooters wanted to return the trophy to their Waialae Avenue campus and used that as a motivator.

“;The girls worked very hard to get the championship back from Punahou,”; Lancers coach Alan Tokumura said. “;Regaining the title has been their goal since the start of the season and they really turned it up, especially these last few weeks in practice. That hard work showed up on the scoreboard today. I'm really proud of them.”;

Akana felt the pressure of being defending champion, but wanted to be the first to make a repeat performance.

“;I was really nervous in this competition because I knew that everyone else was trying to beat me,”; said Akana. “;I tried to push that out of my mind and focus on my shots and helping my team. Last year was a little easier because I had a clean slate. I actually scored better last year, but it feels even more satisfying now.”;

Akana is a very deliberate shooter. Her mother, Wehilani Muller, purposely sits far away because she keeps glancing at the time clock and simply can't take the pressure.

“;She uses every minute allotted in each firing position,”; Muller said. “;If they give the athletes 30 minutes in the prone position, she will space her shots and use the whole 30 minutes. It gets unnerving at times. I remember once when she was ready to fire, and something disturbed her routine. She laid her rifle down and I got worried because they subtract 10 points for every target that isn't hit. I felt like screaming, 'Shoot the target!' But she was correcting her breathing, grabbed her rifle with about 5 seconds left, and made her shot.”;

Akana is expecting a letter of intent soon from the University of Nevada, where she plans to continue her athletic career and possibly enroll in the premed program, most likely focusing on pathology.

The theme was familiarity in the boys competition too, where, since 1999, it's been almost always either the Crusaders or Buffanblu.

Saint Louis bettered its ILH rival during the regular-season competition and looked like a good bet to finish back on top. Punahou coach Karen Finley said its second-place regular-season finish was a wake-up call.

“;The win validates everything they've done all year,”; Finley said. “;We have a natural rivalry, and comparing scores with Saint Louis has been kind of a benchmark for them. They got tired of finishing second and the boys used that for inspiration.”;

Char's first-place finish was no surprise to his coach. Finley said she's glad he was able to capture the title in his final year.

“;He's worked hard over the years to improve his ability and it paid off,”; Finley said.

Char placed eighth in the 2008 championships.

“;I've finally reached the highest level I could and it feels good today,”; Char said.

Char credits coach Finley, a former UCLA riflery athlete, with training that wasn't always fun, but very useful.

“;We spend a lot of time focusing on small targets and it gets boring after a while,”; he said. “;Coach Finley would devise little exercises and drills that helped us focus on different aspects of shooting. Looking back on it, we wondered why we were doing the drills and didn't exactly like it. But they certainly worked and that's why she's the coach. I've learned so much from her since Day 1 and I'm grateful.”;

Due to budget constraints, this year's field was pared down to 84 athletes, equally split at 42 each for boys and girls competition. In previous years, the field was 120.