Farrington’s Lavenia Fotu was a state champion at 225 pounds in 2017 as a sophomore. But as a junior, she never got a chance to defend her title.
“I wasn’t (at states). I was on the team, towards the ending I did something,” she said. “I ruined my last three matches of the season and I got kicked off the team.”
But there Fotu was on the first day of the Hawaii Officials Tournament at Leilehua on Friday, looking to redeem herself one match at a time.
The 225 division had nine wrestlers in the field. Fotu and Hilo’s Leona Toldeo were the only ones who didn’t receive an automatic bid into the quarterfinals. Fotu advanced by pinning Toledo 1:42 into the match.
Up next for Fotu was Kahuku’s Tangiteina Niutupuivaha, the defending 225 state champion and current No. 9 in Hawaii Prep World’s pound-for-pound rankings, who was rested. Niutupuivaha, the No. 1 seed, also defeated Fotu at Officials last season en route to taking the division.
After an intense and full three rounds, Fotu was victorious in a 5-4 decision to advance to the semifinals, which begin late this morning. To see all the semifinal matchups, click here.
“It was unbelievable because that was the redemption match. She wrestled the same girl last year,” Farrington coach Tani Ader said. “It left kind of a bitter taste in both of our mouths, so we kind of wanted to strategize and come back this season with a stronger mentality, physically and mentally, just get her prepared because I knew she was gonna match up with this girl again.
“It’s a great feeling because I know how hard she works and I just wanted it so badly for her. I know she works really hard so it was a blessing.”
Ader said afterwards that while the team missed Fotu during her time away last season, she’s proud of the progress she’s made all-around.
“She’s not very vocal. She’s quiet, super humble, but she leads by example,” Ader said. “When her teammates see her work hard and do well, it kind of sets the tone for the rest of the team so they’re motivated and they want to do well like her. It kind of brings everyone’s spirits up and it just sets the tone for everyone else on the team so it kind of just builds up from there, it’s positive.”
The redemption tour is off to an auspicious start for Fotu. If she can pull off the division victory on Saturday night, an entry back into the P4P top 10 is likely, where she got as high as fifth during her sophomore season.
For now, she’s just happy to be back.
“I feel good,” Fotu said. “I feel happy again. I feel at home.”
Familiar faces were aplenty at Leilehua’s gym, with eight of the top 10 girls in the pound-for-pound rankings and seven of the 10 ranked boys in the field.
Among the boys was No. 9 Boltyn Taam, a Moanalua sophomore who competed for Saint Louis last year.
Taam was the 145-pound ILH champion as a freshman. On Friday, he was 3-0 in the 152-pound division. After an early exit in last year’s Officials and runner-up finish in the state championships, he’s hungry for more.
“It was a good switch,” Taam said of his transfer to Moanalua. “It feels great. Last year I might’ve went out early, this year I want to make it to the finals.”
Like every other contending wrestler in the field who needs to recover in time for today’s semifinals and finals, Friday night will be given a business approach for a quick turnaround.
“I’m real hungry,” Taam said. “It’s gonna be great. Just gonna sleep, get good rest, hydrate and make weight. I should be good.”