Cole and Halpern take state cross country titles

Nov. 5—On a tough day for running, Yuta Cole of Kalani and Kekaihulali Halpern of Hilo became high school cross country state champions on Saturday morning by overcoming additional adversity and posting decisive wins.

On a tough day for running, Yuta Cole of Kalani and Kekaihulali Halpern of Hilo became high school cross country state champions on Saturday morning by overcoming additional adversity and posting decisive wins.

Despite low air quality in the Waipio area due to the recent Mililani Mauka wildfire, Cole won the boys title by covering the hilly 5-kilometer course in 16 minutes, 16.12 seconds. Halpern won her race in 19 :25.56. Cole and Halpern both have asthma, which made preparation for the Honolulu Marathon /HHSAA State Championships a bit tricky.

"I feel great. Last year I finished second by less than a second, " Cole said. "At that moment I was happy, but I was really disappointed once the adrenaline fell away. I feel happy now."

Smoke from the Mililani Mauka wildfire created a smoky haze across the Patsy T. Mink Central Oahu Regional Park course. The air quality index registered at 166 just 90 minutes before the race. The standard for athletes with asthma is to stay out of any level above 100. Fortunately, by the time the boys race began, the AQI was down to 82. By the time the girls race ended, it was 32. Much of the haze had shifted to Mililani town. It still had an effect on runners who have asthma.

"I could feel it, especially in warmups. Every time I would exhale, it would make a weird sound. It started getting painful when I did a fast warm-up and picked up the pace. It's a little bit harder to breathe. It's like wheezing, " Cole said.

Whatever the AQI was, he was willing to run. There were many runners who wore masks before the race.

"Part of me was worried. My head felt really voggy. I was really worried going into it, " Cole said. "I started smelling it less and it felt a little better and you could still see it in the air. By that time I was less nervous about the race. I made it this far and I trained every day for this moment, so I was going to run it no matter what. I was just prepared for anything to happen."

Cole won the OIA boys individual title one week earlier on the same course. He sliced four seconds off his OIA time as clouds kept temperatures in the 75-76 range. Occasional trade winds up to 9 mph helped. At the OIA championships, he took an early lead and maintained it over friend and rival Ari Smith of Campbell.

"Last weekend, I tried to push the pace every chance I got. This week, especially considering the asthma, I was a little bit worried. I tried to play it conservatively, " he said.

On Saturday, around the 2-mile mark, Cole began to push hard. He extended his lead over that final mile up the third hill, to the baseball fields and back down the long slope.

"I started to feel the effects a little bit. It was very tight and pretty painful, " he said. "I was only three minutes away from the finish line, so I just gave everything I had. I made the turn and I could start to see the finish line, so that's when I had to kick it in. Ari's been practicing kicking it in that last straightaway. If I was going to lose, I knew it was going to be there, so I kicked it in to the finish."

Cole again outlasted Smith, who finished in 16 :31.42. Micah Brighton of Seabury Hall (16 :54.09 ), Keane Palmer of 'Iolani (17 :01.66 ) and Thomas Rosenbalm of Mililani (17 :04.19 ) rounded out the first five.

Halpern, a junior, had little doubt about her potential. After finishing third to then-seniors Zola O'Donnell of Mililani and Izzy Ford of Punahou last year, she was in firm control Saturday morning. The junior was followed by ILH champion Saige Miller of Hanalani (20 :09.85 ) and OIA champion Kaitlyn Bitterman of Mililani (20 :14.54 ). Madeline Grant of Moanalua (20 :22.32 ) and Logan Pang of 'Iolani (20 :23.45 ) completed the first five.

"When we were here yesterday (Friday ), there was ash falling, " Halpern said. "The course is relatively flat and you get so much downhill, and you're on pavement for the downhill. Especially compared to HPA on the Big Island, that's a very hard course. This one is great."

Halpern came down the first downhill without much concern about the pack around her.

"It's best to just focus on yourself and decide, I'm going at my own pace, what's comfortable for me instead of falling into what other people are doing, " Halpern said.

She stretched the lead out gradually, running her pace.

"I don't mind not having a kick at the end. I ran the best I can. I don't think I really had one in this race, " Halpern said. "I didn't expect this exactly. I do underestimate myself a lot, so I didn't know I would be as strong as I was."

Until Halpern did it last year, her older sister, Mehana Sabado-Halpern, was the last Hilo harrier to place in the top three statewide. That was in 2014.

"I run because my older sister ran, " Halpern said.

'Iolani captured the Division I boys team title with 43 points. OIA champion Mililani (58 ), Waiakea (116 ), Punahou (116 ) and Radford (142 ) followed. The Raiders' three-peat title team is comprised of Palmer, Cole Kaneshiro (sixth overall ), Ian Kawamura (10th ), Ethan Chock (13th ), Spencer Lyau (22nd ), Devin Pang and Nicolas Moses.

Seabury Hall won its second D-II boys team title in a row with 32 points. Hawaii Baptist (38 ), Hawaii Prep (106 ), Hanalani (109 ) and Kihei Charter (124 ) followed.

Seabury Hall's squad is comprised of Brighton, Kayden Volner (seventh ), Jacob Romero (19th ), Finn Hensley (31st ), Nikolai Mironov (81st ), Brendan Punu and Daniel Alcantara.

Punahou won the D-I girls team championship with 65 points. The Buffanblu lineup : Kyle Hasegawa (11th ), Amelie Zeitz (16th ), Lili Blair (19th ), Synnove Robinson (27th ), Leah Sekulich (29th ), Emi Harstad and Reina Lee.

'Iolani (77 ), Kalaheo (111 ), Kamehameha (117 ) and Hilo (133 ) rounded out the first five.

Hanalani, who fielded no team in some recent years, won its first D-II girls team championship with 48 points. The Royals were comprised of Miller, Jaeana Monalim (28th ), Avrie Miller (33rd ), Eliana Chingcuango (50th ), Eryn Bunton (67th ) and Kiemi Paresa.

Following Hanalani were Seabury Hall (54 ), Hawaii Prep (69 ), Hawaii Baptist (85 ) and Kihei Charter (127 ).