A Banner Year For Punahou’s Komori
What do you get a head coach who seems to have everything — including a record number of victories and the longest state high school championship streak in the nation? Well, if you’re the Punahou boys varsity tennis team and you greatly appreciate the tremendous leadership of your longtime coach, you give a gift that reminds him of this moment in Hawaii sports history forever.
“They got me a real firstclass banner,” Rusty Komori tells me, approvingly. The banner congratulates Komori for winning his 22nd consecutive state title — something that no other coach in any other high school sport in the nation has accomplished. The coach, who retires this season after winning every single ILH and state championship title since 1994, says he’ll likely hang the banner in his den.
Another potential spot might be somewhere in Punahou’s Dillingham Tennis Center, where Komori will serve as a teaching professional even as his coaching days are finished.
“I know I surprised a few people when I announced at the beginning of this season that this would be my last,” 45- year-old Komori says. But he felt it was time to focus full time on the development of young players. “I get such a joy watching them grow up and earn a spot later.”
It’s been quite a year for the former Damien Monarchs high school star. In 2014, he was selected to the Creighton University Athletics Hall of Fame, where he played collegiately, the first-ever tennis player at his alma mater to earn such an honor. Komori’s tennis resume is extremely impressive. At Damien, he was an all-ILH star ranked as high as No. 4 in the state. At Creighton, he won more singles matches than any other player in school history, while also serving as team captain and earning team MVP honors.
The Mililani native came home to the Islands after graduation and immediately became an assistant coach and teaching professional. By the time he was named head boys varsity coach at the young age of 24, the Buffanblu already had won three straight state titles. Each year, Komori increased that total until he set a Hawaii record for state titles in 2008. The national record came a couple of years later. No other sports program and no other head coach comes close to what Punahou and Komori have accomplished — 25 straight state titles for the Buffanblu and 22 straight for Komori.
“I’ve got two basic rules: Never take anyone for granted and always try to get better,” he says. “Every team is a different set of 12 boys and they work together to form their own identity. You can’t rest on your laurels — you always have to try to take it one step beyond where you’ve been before.”
During this amazing streak, Punahou has won so much that Komori can’t recall specifically the last time they lost a dual match. “I know we lost a couple of times when we were missing a couple of players, but I honestly don’t remember when that was,” he says.
He focuses on success, and his players always have appreciated his calm, cool demeanor and honest feedback. Many of them have gone on to play collegiate tennis at some of the biggest programs in the country.
“It’s so fun to follow them along the way,” he says. “It’s a sport that lasts a lifetime.”
As Rusty Komori revels in the memories of his incredible streak and the next step in his tennis teaching career, he’ll have more time to spend with his 7-year-old pet Maltese with the perfect name for a tennis master that exemplifies perfection: Ace.