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Chargers’ Girls Judo Team On Brink Of Face-off At States

Even with one of the largest collections of talent in the state on its roster, there’s no doubting who sets the pace at practice for the Pearl City girls judo team.

That task belongs to senior extraordinaire Sanoe Spencer.

“Normally the captains of the boys team run the team, but she runs this team,” said longtime head coach Robin Puahala. “Her leadership sets her apart. We’ve had a lot of champions pass through here, but she is by far the best captain we’ve ever had. Her work ethic is her strength. She trains every day like it’s a championship match.”

Spencer, who is a two-time defending state champion in the 220-pound weight class, is one of the catalysts of a stellar senior class that also includes Toni Uyehara, Taylor Vidad, Taylor Hayamoto, Brittne Fuimaono, Mylinda Jefferson, Dora Matsushima, Serinah Gomez, Devra Lefotu and Sharen Garperio.

All told, the 10-member senior class already has won four OIA West Division titles and three OIA titles in their career, in addition to having been the state runner-up the past three years to Punahou. Indeed, the senior class has lost only one match in its three-plus years, that one coming in the state finals during the 2009 freshman campaign.

Hopes are high for the Chargers to clear that final hurdle at next week’s state judo finals. Pearl City is expecting to qualify as many as 16 girls for the state tournament at this weekend’s OIA individual finals.

“It’s usually been between us and Punahou, and as good as we are this year, Punahou is just as good,” Puahala said. “We have our whole lineup back from last year. We’re still climbing the mountain, but we hope to peak this week and next.”

Spencer and Uyehara are captains of Puahala’s current team, along with juniors Taylor Castro and Sherese Ader.

“Toni always brings our team up with her personality. She’s always happy, and a happy team is a winning team. Sherese’s best attributes are her strength and her ability to adapt.”

Castro finished second in the state last year in the 122-pound class, but is expected to compete in the 115-pound class next week, to help strengthen the Chargers’ prospects for a state ‘team title.’

“Taylor’s leadership is a big key for us, along with Sanoe’s,” Puahala said. “To be promoted to captain as a sophomore – as she was last year – had never been done here.”

Even with the departure of the seniors at season’s end, Pearl City already is well-situated for next season with a solid corps ready to step in. Among the underclassmen who have dominated this season are junior Kacie Awa and sophomore Breeanne Takaesu, who finished fourth and second, respectively, at last year’s state finals.

The unsung heroes in the program remain the coaching staff, which includes several alumni of the proud program, according to Puahala.

“Without our staff (of assistants), I don’t think we’d be where we’re at all these years,” he said.

Pairings for next week’s state tournament will be announced Sunday.