Punahou’s Rusty Komori took the varsity boys tennis coaching job in 1994, and since that time, he never learned what it was like to finish second or worse in the state championship.
That’s 22 years of leading the talent-laden Buffanblu to the Hawaii title. That’s what you call supremacy, and for whoever follows Komori in the job, that’s a tough, tough act to follow.
It might seem like an easy thing to do. Punahou gets great athletes in all sports, right? Yes, but … well, you try it.
Komori was smiling on Saturday when the Buffanblu wrapped up the 22nd title in a row, but he talked about “22 years of stresses” as well, and one can only take so much of that grind. And that is the reason he’s retiring from his post as a high school coach.
Komori, 45, will continue in his role as a tennis pro for Punahou’s age-group tennis program.
“It’s such an individual sport, but since I took over in 1994, I’ve wanted all 12 players to feel important and a big part of the team. No. 12 should feel just as important as No. 1.”
A member of the Creighton Athletic Hall of Fame for his 130 victories in singles and doubles combined from 1988 to ’91, Komori also mentioned that he was constantly “striving for excellence” with his players and his team and that there was an effort to always keep improving.
Always improving? Very, very hard to do when you’re already the best.
Komori also said the 25 team titles in a row (which includes one with Bernard Gusman and two with Michael Gearen as coaches from 1991 to ’93) is “something all of Hawaii can be proud of.” It’s a national record for all high school sports.
Victories are only one part of what Komori accomplished with the Buffanblu.
“What I’m most proud about is the character of the players. We’ve developed great people in society,” he said.
“We wanted players to focus on their strengths and put them in a position to win and gain confidence and self-esteem. They learn life lessons through tennis. They will be facing many more challenges and much more adversity after this.”
Tom Holden, a Punahou athletic administrator, didn’t mince his words when talking about what Komori meant to the Buffanblu tennis program.
“Rusty has had a significant impact on the lives of so many of our athletes in his 22 years at the helm,” Holden said, “and although his legacy of winning a state championship in each of those years stands alone, he will be remembered as being a players coach and an absolute class act.”
Komori’s has no plans to return as a high school tennis coach some day.
“There is nothing more for me to accomplish (in that realm),” he said.
Komori also won state titles as the Buffanblu girls head coach in 2004 and ’05.
In the 58 seasons since the state tournament began in 1958, the Punahou boys have won it 47 times and the Buffanblu girls have been victorious 40 times outright and have shared the title once.