Pinning tradition


POSTED: Wednesday, December 23, 2009

As head coach Matt Oney and co-head coach Jimmy Takatsuka enter their 20th season as the leaders of Punahou's boys wrestling program, nothing much has changed. But the results have, dramatically.

Practice routines and approaches to competition remain the same. The one major change has been winning: three consecutive state titles after the school went 39 years without one.

Punahou has set and broken the state record for team points in a championship meet with 225 and 255 points in 2008 and 2009 and created a winning attitude.

“;There's a saying I've heard: tradition never graduates,”; said Buffanblu senior Saneilia “;Sani”; Fuimaono, last year's state champion in the 285-plus-pound heavyweight division. “;The seniors always (tell) the underclassmen to be better than the year before. Being here in my senior year, I want to help leave this season as the greatest ever.”;

What was it that allowed Punahou to turn the corner?

Takatsuka associates the program's winning streak in part with the creation of a youth program called the Pumas near the turn of the century. Fourth-through-sixth graders compete at the club level while learning about wrestling. This early exposure gives athletes experience before moving up to the intermediate ranks. They get an edge over competitors still getting used to wearing a singlet or strapping on headgear, let alone mastering the various maneuvers.

“;One of the things that changed is that the younger kids started winning, so the expectation of success was there instead of just hoping for success,”; Takatsuka said of the Puma program. “;Regardless of skill level, the kids are more comfortable with the sport as opposed to those who come out as freshmen.”;

Punahou also boasts a strong alumni base, and Takatsuka says around 15 former wrestlers home on winter break attended a recent practice.

Fuimaono credits 1996 graduate Shawn Ball with helping him reach championship caliber.

“;He's been a friend, a coach, and a mentor,”; Fuimaono said. “;All my coaches have helped to make me the man and the wrestler I am today.”;

The Buffanblu return a strong core of wrestlers, including defending state champions Fuimaono, Patrick Sheehan (175 pounds) and Kolu Buck (189 pounds). Buck is expected to move up to the 215-pound weight class this season. In total, Punahou returns seven medal winners from last year's state tournament.

In last weekend's Officials Tournament at Leilehua, Punahou captured the title in what could be the first step toward a fourth straight state crown. The Buffanblu are currently preparing for a national tournament deemed “;The Clash”; on Jan. 8-9 in Rochester, Minn. It features 32 squads from around the country, including 12 state champions.

“;We got invited two years ago, and it's a very prestigious tournament,”; Takatsuka said. “;We got invited back this year, and it will show us how we can do, or not do, as we match up against the top teams in the country.”;

Looking ahead to regular-season matches, Punahou will likely be challenged by ILH foe Kamehameha, which returns most of a strong team from last year. When the state meet rolls around in late February, Oahu Interscholastic Association power Kahuku should also figure in the championship picture.

Takatsuka says that the team remains focused by following the simple motto: “; '100 percent effort, 100 percent of the time.' It's harder to achieve than just winning and losing,”; he said.

“;It's a blessing and a great opportunity to be back again with a title around my belt,”; Fuimaono said. “;I wouldn't have made it to where I am without my team keeping me on my toes, and my coaches teaching me all I need to know. Now I'm trying to bring back another title for the team, and for Punahou.”;