Chargers’ Girls Judo Team Seeks Sixth-straight State Title

The by-product of the Pearl City girls judo team’s overwhelming the field at last May’s state tournament is its “all-or-nothing” mindset about 2015. Nothing less than a repeat will do for this group, to hear longtime head coach Robin Puahala tell it.

“More than anything, I think it’s our captains not wanting to lose it on their watch,” he said. “Our former captains also are back, still helping with practice, and they’re a constant reminder that they don’t want to lose it on their watch.”

High expectations are the daily reality. A year ago, Pearl City was in regroup mode after graduating a large senior class. But it still delivered the school’s fifth state title in a row and its seventh in the last eight years. (Pearl City also claimed five OIA titles in a row and seven of the last eight.)

The Chargers had 14 players qualify for the state championships in May and were the only school represented in every weight class. By the end, they had placed in the top six in all 10 weights with a state tournament record of 104 points. Kamehameha-Kapalama and Moanalua finished a distant second with 41 points each.

Of the 12 who placed for Pearl City, only Megan Ramos and Trudi Eltagonde graduated last spring. Both currently help as assistant coaches. The Chargers lost standouts Chastyne Dolor (109) and Ashlyn Antonio (220), whose families relocated to the Mainland. (Dolor won the Chargers’ lone individual state title in May; Antonio finished third in her weight class.)

The team is loaded with returnees: Louise Pekelo (103-pound class), Netanya Kang (129), Kayla Arakaki (139), Kim Mendez (154), Mikayla Abe (115), Joen Tominaga (122), Adrienne Nazareno (98) and Sara Kaaiakamanu (139).

Kang, Arakaki, Pekelo and Abe are captains this year. Kang, Pekelo and Arakaki all were runners-up in their weight classes at the state tournament, while Abe placed fifth.

“Netanya’s work ethic is her strength,” Puahala said of Kang, who is a junior. “Kayla also is a hard worker. She’s Netanya’s training partner, so we have both of our blue-collar kids working together.

“Louise leads by example — she’s one of our studs in the middle. Mikayla is only a sophomore. She took second in the state in wrestling and fourth in judo.”

Puahala refers to Nazareno, who finished fifth in the state last year, as his current team’s “spark plug” in the 98-pound class.

“When she gets a good start, we get a good start (as a team),” he said.

Puahala also expects big seasons from Mendez (fourth in the state in ’14), Tominaga (fourth in the state) and Kaaiakamanu (sixth).

“We’re blessed to have both Kim and Sara,” he noted. “Their strength is their ability to learn something and apply it immediately in a match. Joen is the nicest person in the world. She brings calm to our team during our most stressful times.”

Pearl City was to compete in a Novice/Open Tournament at Aiea over the weekend, and it will open its OIA season at 10:30 a.m. this Saturday at Kapolei High School.

“We’re a little ahead of where we thought they’d be right now, and I don’t know if that’s good,” he admitted. “We don’t want them to burn out early. We want them peaking at the right time. But when it comes to camaraderie, work ethic and training ability, this group has it in spades.”

Pearl City will host the OIA West championships April 18.

The OIA individual and team championships will be April 25 and May 2, at Leilehua and Moanalua, respectively. The state judo championships are set for May 9 at Stan Sheriff Center at UH Manoa.