Low has history in his grasp
By Wes Nakama
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Wes Nakama
Saint Louis senior Brandon Low is at the doorstep of Hawai'i high school wrestling history, but he is not exactly standing on a welcome mat.
Low is two days and four victories away from becoming only the third boy in the 40-year history of the Chevron/Hawai'i High School Athletic Association Championships to win four individual state titles, and the first to do it in four different weight classes (112 pounds, 119, 125 and 130).
Threatening to block his path into immortality are two other reigning state champions, Daniel Morita of Kahuku and Brenden Whitt of Punahou. All three seniors will be competing for the 130-pound crown, starting with tomorrow's first round and quarterfinals and continuing into Saturday's semifinals and finals at Blaisdell Arena.
"It's certainly a unique situation," said longtime Punahou coach Matt Oney. "There's been years when we had two state champions going up against each other, but here you have one guy going for his fourth state title, another (Morita) going for his third and a third guy going for his second. It's pretty special, and it should make for an exciting Saturday. They can't all win."
That is true regarding Saturday's matches, but the three seniors have a long tradition of winning that dates to when they were freshmen, and they even have victories against each other. Morita defeated Low at 112 pounds during a preseason meet their freshman year, then Low came back to beat Morita, 8-4, in the state final.
They have not met since, because Morita moved up in weight classes his sophomore and junior seasons and won the 125-pound title in 2004 and the 135-pound championship last year.
Whitt defeated Low, 5-4, in December for the championship of the preseason "Officials" Tournament. Low avenged that loss in the regular season, 4-3, and then beat Whitt, 9-1, last Saturday to win his fourth straight Interscholastic League of Honolulu title.
"That was the most confident I've been this season, the most mentally prepared," Low said of Saturday's victory. "For three or four weeks, I trained for his style. But he's definitely going to be more hungry this week."
Whitt, who is in Morita's bracket and will likely face him in the semifinals, said Saturday's loss will serve as motivation.
"It kind of put everything back into perspective," Whitt said. "I think I let the crowd get to me. Now I just have to refocus for states — it'll be the best going after the best, and we all know what it takes to win. It'll bring out the best in everybody."
Whitt actually is the only one of the three who is returning at 130 pounds. After taking fourth in the state at 140 pounds in 2004, he dropped to 130 last year and won the title with a 6-3 victory over Roosevelt's Van Michael Shiroma.
Since they have been in different weight classes, Whitt and Morita have not faced each other since they were in the eighth grade.
"I think that match is gonna go down to the wire," Low said. "They're both great wrestlers who are strong and have good technique. It's going to come down to who wants it more."
Whitt and Morita have further motivation because Kahuku and Punahou are strong contenders for the overall team championships. Kahuku won its fourth straight O'ahu Interscholastic Association title last Saturday, and Punahou won its first ILH crown in 28 years earlier that day.
Morita said team success is the main reason he changed weight classes.
"Last year I wrestled at 135 for the team, because I wanted my friend (Nevin Kamaka'ala) to wrestle at 130," Morita said. "I never really grew out of 130, so I feel strong at that weight. The big thing is, if I win or if Brenden wins, it's going to help our teams. For me, that's my priority as a senior captain."
Some expect Low's biggest pre-final competition to come from Roosevelt's Lee Inouye, the OIA runner-up, and are predicting more energy to be spent in the other semifinal. But Morita said he will have more than enough left in the tank should he make it to the finals.
"I've had tough semifinals before and still came out strong in the finals," Morita said. "There's a lot of good competition, and that makes me excited. I remember (the 2003 finals match against Low) like it was yesterday. He beat me on foot. But all of us are champions now, and none of us wants to lose. We know that winning states is one of the best feelings in the world, and the better man is going to win."
If Morita had won that 2003 final, the spotlight may have been on him this weekend. But now it is on Low, who also carries a 4.16 grade point average and is on track to graduate as valedictorian.
He said he appreciates the rare feat he has a chance at achieving, but is not consumed by it and is taking nothing for granted before then.
"It's definitely something special," Low said. "There's been so many great wrestlers who have won three, so I'm just fortunate to have this opportunity."
Reach Wes Nakama at firstname.lastname@example.org.