HONOLULU — Racing down the homestretch to victory at the Island Movers/HHSAA Track and Field State Championships in front of a roaring crowd will be a moment Kaylee Volner will always remember.
After another runner-up finish in her decorated career earlier Saturday at Kamehameha Schools Kapalama, the Seabury Hall senior blew away the field in the 3,000 meters to finally claim her first-ever state title.
“I’m just so grateful. I don’t think it’s hit me yet, but my win is everyone’s win in my opinion — my whole community that has helped me get to this point — and it’s my teammates’ win, my parents’ win, my family’s, it’s my coaches ‘, it’s Maui’s win if I’m being honest. It just feels amazing,” Volner said after setting a personal record with a time of 10 minutes, 17.93 seconds. “I don’t know 90 percent of these people but I could hear everyone cheering and I just crossed the finish line with a smile on my face because it was just an emotional and memorable moment for me.”
It has always been her dream to be a gold medalist since joining the Spartans, and after having lost two full track seasons due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 3,000 suddenly became her last chance after she placed second in the 1,500 earlier Saturday.
“In the 1,500, I didn’t have the best start,” said Volner, also a two-time state runner-up in cross country. “I got stuck behind some people, so I made sure for the 3,000 that I was up ahead and I kind of took that with me and once I hit that last 1,000, I tried to give it all I could because, you know, it was my last 1,000 and I had to try my hardest.”
Seabury coach Bobby Grossman said that watching Volner’s final high school race was “probably the most emotional victory I’ve had since my daughters’.”
“I’ve had emotional ones, but this one was very important to have her finish out with a medal this year,” Grossman said. “She’s had a lot of second places, so this is something that Kaylee needed and something that I wanted to see her get and something that her family needed. I’m very proud of her.”
Volner was one of four Maui Interscholastic League runners to earn gold medals Saturday, joining Maui High senior Kaimana Cantere, Baldwin senior Justin Kahalewai and Bears junior Joseph Randolph.
After earning bronze in the boys 1,500 with a personal-record time of 4:13.59, Cantere gutted out a come-from-behind victory in the 800 less than 30 minutes later, again running a personal best of 1:59.92 — this is the first time a Maui High runner broke 2 minutes in this event, according to Sabers coaches.
“Crossing through the finish line, you know, I’m bringing home a medal for Maui High and possibly a school record, but right now, all I can feel is relief, I feel proud and I’m really thankful,” he said.
Cantere, who mentioned that his Achilles tendon was sore and tightening up after his first event, was sitting about six places back with just 200 meters to go of the two-lap race before he made his move.
“Today it all came together and I was able to unleash my kick at the end when I was already feeling tired and everything. I just had to go,” said Cantere, the reigning cross country state champion. “It was all worth it. … I just kept pushing through the pain and I told myself ‘I can rest after that, but right now it’s time to go.’ “
The Sabers earned another bronze in girls shot put with Amber Donnelly’s throw of 32 feet, 11 inches. Donnelly left Oahu with two bronze medals — she also placed third in the discus Friday night.
Saturday evening started with a bang when Kahalewai raced his way to his first state championship title in the 110 hurdles with a personal-record time of 15.59 seconds.
“It was a long way getting here — a lot of running, a lot of hard work and our coaches pushing us,” the senior said after stepping off the podium. “It was fun, a good experience to come out here and represent my school and my family, and yeah, a friggin good experience.”
Kahalewai gained control of the field about 50 meters in and just barely held off eventual runner-up Joshua Sanders of Moanalua (15.65). The Bears hurdler hopes that his performance inspires the rest of his team and “makes them better” for next year.
Randolph, in particular, was fired up after watching Kahalewai’s victory as he got ready on the infield for the boys 100, which he won in 10.97 seconds.
“That turned me up,” said Randolph. “I had to follow him — he set the tone.”
And just like he has done all year, the 100-meter MIL champion led from start to finish.
“There are some great competitors out here, so it pushed (the race) really well,” the 6-foot-3 junior sprinter said. “It’s great. I have so much support here and also back home on Maui. Just doing it for them and hopefully making them proud is just a blessing, and I hope I achieved that.”
Randolph later anchored the Bears’ 400 relay team, which also included Kelvyn Saito, Landen Ambrocio and Ryan Padron. Randolph moved the Bears from fifth place to third in the final stretch with a time of 43.55, finishing behind Saint Louis and Punahou.
Though the top qualifier in the 200, Randolph scratched the event due to lingering hip pain following Friday’s trials.
Led by Kahalewai’s and Randolph’s wins, the Bears placed fourth in the boys team standings with 35 points. Punahou won its fourth straight team title with 73 points. Saint Louis (49) was second and Kapolei (38.5) third.
The Buffanblu ran away with their third straight girls title, collecting 105 points. King Kekaulike was the top MIL girls team, scoring for seventh with 22 points. Na Alii were led by Heather Pease’s runner-up finish in the discus Friday and a third-place finish by their 400 relay team of Natalie Wright, Lola Richardson, Satori Israel and Ja’lyn Deichert on Saturday.
Baldwin head coach Derek Dahilig said after the meet that he was “nothing but proud” of the performances he saw from his team Saturday night.
“We’re proud of them. A lot of them are coming off all of this built-up energy and we didn’t know how this was going to pan out, especially at the grandest stage of state competition, so we’re proud,” Dahilig said. “Everything that we accomplished today is because of the athletes who put in the work. They came to practice, they did what we asked them to do and that shows, not just the medal winners, but everyone who competed that we brought over, and we saw that in them.”
Ezra Laga and Selena Castro also brought home medals for the Bears, silver in the boys discus throw and bronze in the girls 400, respectively. Laga threw a 150-5 and Castro ran a personal-record time of 59.20.
“We basically lost all our voices from screaming. Like, I almost toppled over the fence when Justin won because he wasn’t the favorite coming in, so it was great, especially for our seniors like Ezra and John Bacos, and obviously Justin,” Dahilig said. “For them to go out the way that they did and with that kind of effort, that’s all that we can ask for and hope for them.”
* Dakota Grossman is at firstname.lastname@example.org.