Oahu Interscholastic Association 155-pound champ Delilah Joung of Waipahu worked on technique during practice. Joung is trying for her second state title.

In a league
of their own

Baclaan, Joung and Baniaga represent
Waipahu in this week's state wrestling
championships at Blaisdell Arena

Genevieve Baclaan isn't quite sure what made her come back.

It was late last spring and the Lady Marauders of Waipahu were trying to convince their statistician to join the wrestling team. She reluctantly agreed to practice once and the coaches initiated her by pairing her with 2004 state champion Delilah Joung.

It was an introduction Baclaan would not soon forget.

"I woke up the next day and I couldn't get out of the bed," said Baclaan, who is in her first season of wrestling. "I was like, 'Why did I do that'? She was going soft on me and I was getting really beat up. I was so tired. I was exhausted by the end of the day.

"And then Delilah called me up and she was like, 'Are you coming to practice' and I was like, 'Yeah.' And I got beat up again, but you get used to it."

Baclaan not only got used to it, but improved enough to earn a spot in this week's state championships.

She is one of three Waipahu girls competing in the Chevron Hawaii Wrestling Championships at the Blaisdell Arena. The junior is in the 220-pound class while Joung hopes to win her second state championship in the 155-pound division. Also qualifying is Jackie Baniaga, who won the 130-pound class last Saturday at the Oahu Interscholastic Association championships.

Competing in the state tournament is the result of a season of improvement and dominance. Joung went undefeated in 26 matches and earned another OIA title last weekend.

Joung is explosive with an innate toughness that sets her apart. In the OIA title match, she scored quickly on two takedowns and stayed composed when her opponent instigated a comeback that cut her four-point lead to two. The 5-foot-3 wrestler calmly scored 10 more points on an assortment of moves for the win.

"Dbo (Delilah) is a dynamic wrestler. She's very strong," Waipahu coach Kris Kern said. "Her takedowns and counters are her strengths. Whatever the other wrestler does, she knows how to react to that."

Joung is poised for a repeat in the state meet which has Kern, the first-year head coach, a bit uneasy.

"If she wins, I have to dye my hair blue and yellow, go to the beach and wear a thong," Kern said. "I'm a little nervous about that because I know she might take it."

It's not a one-sided deal. Joung has to cut her long hair into a mullet if she loses.

After the state championships, Joung will continue to train. She has her eye on July and competing at nationals. It could be a ticket to college and Kern says a few Division II schools have already expressed interest in her.

A ticket to college would be an enormous bonus from the sport that has provided much for her.

"I showed more A's this year," Joung said. "Last year I was between a 2.5 and 3.0 (grade-point average). This year I have like a 3.3.

BACLAAN FINISHED fifth at the OIA championship with a league record of 9-1. Not bad for someone who had her doubts about the sport.

"It didn't look that hard but I was skeptical about it," said Baclaan, who hopes to go to culinary school and stay involved with wrestling in the future. "I was scared to get hurt, but then I saw how fun it is and how they enjoyed doing it and how it's not just a boys sport.

"It's not that hard. Girls can do it, too. We get a lot of respect from the entire school."

After the state championships, Baclaan wants to take her solid work ethic to the judo team. She plans on wrestling in the summer league and perhaps taking up a running sport in the fall to keep in condition. Baclaan is a lot smaller than some of the biggest girls in the 220-pound class, but that's where Waipahu needed her.

She hopes to move down two weight classes to the 155-pound division next season after Joung graduates.

BANIAGA WAS PETRIFIED as a freshman wrestler.

"When I started, I was scared and nervous. My old coach (Candace Takamatsu) helped me every day," said Baniaga, who went 10-1 this season. "She taught me almost everything I know."

Since then, she has matured in the classroom with a 3.2 GPA and aims to become a physical therapist. She steadily improved on the mat, placing third in the OIA last year before winning the crown as a senior.

She'll take a year off after graduation.

"I'll probably come back next year to help out my team," said Baniaga, who also hopes to volunteer at a rehab clinic before starting college.

Though different in their wrestling careers and personalities, Joung, Baclaan and Baniaga complement each other well. Their leadership has helped the smallish squad (six varsity and three junior varsity wrestlers) survive a bumpy season of injuries.

Joung is the fiery, outspoken one who pumps up the team. Baniaga has overcome her initial fears and now wants to give back to the program. Baclaan, who helps take care of an extended ohana at home, is the nurturing one whom teammates confide in when there's a problem.

"What I appreciate about Delilah and Jenevieve is they're there to wrestle," Kern said. "They want to do something with themselves. They want to make a difference. It's not about just their individual selves. It's about giving back and helping other people."

Joung, Baniaga and Baclaan have contributed much in helping Kern.

"They really eased the transition," said the 24-year-old Kern, who became the wrestling head coach a month before the season began. "It was hard because this is the first time I coached both boys and girls. They kind of took on the role to help me out to make the transition to let the other wrestlers know that I was here to help.

"What was great about this team is that they accepted my style of coaching, my style of practice. They didn't have any questions about it. They just accepted what they had to do."

E-mail to Sports Desk


© Honolulu Star-Bulletin -- https://archives.starbulletin.com