A Decade of Hawaii: Sports

Local News

Picture: NFL

Hawaii has always punched above its weight when it comes to sports. This decade was no exception, with locals playing pivotal roles on championship teams in every major sport, from little league to college to the pros.

It would be an impossible task to give every notable Hawaii athlete the space and credit they deserve, but the following men and women were exemplary in their respective sports. Not only were they successful, they represented Hawaii in a meaningful way during the 2010s.

MMA

Hawaii has always been a hotbed of fighting talent, yet two fighters stood out from the rest this decade: Bellator flyweight champ Ilima-Lei Macfarlane, and former UFC featherweight champ Max Holloway.

Aloha, Bellator! Hawaii's Macfarlane to defend world title in Honolulu this December

Macfarlane made her pro debut in 2015 and quickly made her way up the Bellator ranks. She won the promotion’s inaugural flyweight title in 2017 with a submission, and defended it an additional four times, three of which via submission or TKO. Perhaps her biggest accomplishment, however, was bringing big-time MMA back to the 808 — twice. Headlining two Bellator Hawaii cards in 2018 and 2019, with viral walkouts to boot, Macfarlane put Hawaii on her back in a distinct and meaningful way.

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Then there’s Holloway. He made his pro debut in 2010 and after four fights in the local X-1 promotion, he was in the UFC. He hit some bumps early, going 3-3 in his first six fights. After losing to Conor McGregor in 2013, he went ballistic, winning his next 13 fights en route to capturing and defending the featherweight title. His 13-fight win streak, which was snapped in 2019 by Dustin Poirer in an interim lightweight title fight, is the second longest streak in UFC history in any division, tied with Demetrious Johnson and Georges St. Pierre, trailing only Jon Jones and Anderson Silva. Not bad company for the Waianae boy.

Surfing

Of course, no list of Hawaii athletes would be complete without surfers. It’s no surprise that Hawaii — the birthplace of the sport — is home to countless world-class surfers. Despite the abundance of talent in the islands, two surfers also set themselves apart throughout the decade.

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John John Florence started the decade taking 13th place in Pipe Masters as an 18-year-old, but he only improved in the ensuing years. He bounced between the top 5 and top 15 until he won his first world title in 2016, a feat he would repeat the following year. He also won the 2015/2016 Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational when he was 23, becoming the youngest surfer to do so and the first Hawaii surfer to win it in over a decade. Injuries kept him out of the water for much of 2018 and 2019, but he still finished this year ranked #7, good enough to earn a spot on the inaugural US Olympic Surfing Team for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

(Photo by Laurent Masurel/WSL via Getty Images)

This decade in surfing, however, truly belonged to Carissa Moore. Since her Rookie of the Year debut on the women’s pro tour in 2010, Moore has never finished a year ranked lower than #5, and has won the WSL title four times — in 2011, 2013, 2015, and 2019. She is currently tied for the second most world title championships of all time, dating back to 1977 when women first started competing. She was named Adventurer of the Year by National Geographic, Woman of the Year by Glamour Magazine, and was inducted into the Surfer’s Hall of Fame in 2014 — when she was 22 years-old. To top off her most recent championship year, Moore was selected to represent the United States on the first ever Olympic Surfing Team for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

Baseball 

The next stop on the tour of Hawaii’s Athletes of the 2010s is the baseball diamond. Though the 808 State produces a wealth of bat-and-ball talent, three players distinguished themselves throughout the decade.

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The beginning of Kamehameha grad Kolten Wong’s decade was his sophomore season as a Rainbow Warrior. He was named First Team All-WAC and the WAC tournament’s MVP, pushing the team to their first WAC tournament championship since 1992. The next year, he was named an All-American while helping UH win the WAC regular season championship. He was drafted to the St. Louis Cardinals as the 22nd overall pick in 2011, and after a stint in the minors made his pro debut in 2013. He played in the World Series that year, though the Cardinals lost the series 4-2. The next year, Wong was named a starter and came in third in the National League Rookie of the Year Award voting. That year, the Cardinals won the National League Central Division, and he appeared in eight playoff games, hitting three homers and three doubles. He was nominated for a Gold Glove in 2018, and won the Gold Glove this past season.

(Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

Next is the man who bounced Wong’s Cardinals from the playoffs this year en route to winning a World Series title: Baldwin alum Kurt Suzuki. Suzuki started the decade with a multi-million dollar contract extension with the Oakland Athletics. After a brief stint with the Washington Nationals, he signed with the Minnesota Twins in 2014, where he was named an All-Star. He hit a career-high 19 home runs in 2017 with the Atlanta Braves and became the first Hawaii-born player to hit a home run in the World Series earlier this year. In 2019, he played a pivotal role in the Washington Nationals World Series championship, the first in franchise in history.

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From one Maui boy to another, St. Anthony’s Shane Victorino rounds out the list of Hawaii’s best baseball players of the decade. Although his career highs straddle the end of the 2000s and the beginning of the 2010s, “The Flyin’ Hawaiian” was the most visibly great Hawaii player in recent memory. In 2010 he won his third Gold Glove Award and took the Phillies to the National League Championship Series, where they lost to the eventual World Series winners, the San Francisco Giants. In 2011, he was named an All-Star for the second time in his career. After a brief run with the Dodgers, he signed to the Boston Red Sox in 2012. In 2013, he hit an iconic, go-ahead grand slam in game 6 of the American League Championship Series, sending the Red Sox to the World Series. He received his fourth Gold Glove award that year, eventually going on to win the World Series against Kolten Wong’s St. Louis Cardinals. Though injuries plagued him until his retirement in 2018, Victorino remains one of the greatest baseball players in Hawaii history.

Football

Perhaps the most difficult task is whittling down a shortlist of Hawaii’s best football players. Although there are dozens of players worthy of mention, we ultimately arrived at a top three.

Tua Tagovailoa // (Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images)

First up is Tua Tagovailoa, the Saint Louis star who took his talents to Tuscaloosa to play for national powerhouse Alabama. He was the 2016 Gatorade State Player of the Year in high school, as well as the KHON2 Cover2 Offensive Player of the Year and overall Player of the Year. He made his college debut in the 2017/2018 season as a true freshman, starting in the second half of the national championship game. He led the Crimson Tide to a 26-23 win over divisional rival Georgia en route to earning Offensive MVP of the game. In 2018, he racked up more awards: Sporting News Player of the Year; Maxwell Award, SEC Offensive Player of the Year; and the Orange Bowl Offensive MVP. He finished second in Heisman voting and led Alabama to an SEC Championship and a second consecutive national championship appearance. As a junior this year, he was a Heisman favorite early on, but a hip injury ended his season early.

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Next is Manti Teʻo. The Punahou alum was a five star recruit out of high school, and went on to have a sensational career at Notre Dame. As a sophomore in 2010, he led the team in tackles and was a semifinalist for both the Butkus Award for best collegiate linebacker and the Bednarik Award for the best collegiate defensive player. He was also named a second team All-American. In his junior year in 2011, he was a finalist for the Butkus Award and the Lott Trophy, and was once again a second team All-American. Despite the national catfishing scandal, his senior year was one of the finest defensive seasons in college football history. He was a unanimous All-American and won the Lott Trophy, the Maxwell Award, the Bednarik Award, the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, the Butkus Award, the Lombardi Award, and the Walter Camp Player of the Year Award. He was a finalist for the Heisman Trophy, finishing second in votes. He was drafted by the San Diego Chargers in 2013, and was named one of the team captains during the 2016 season. He now plays for the New Orleans Saints.

(Photo by Silas Walker/Getty Images)

The final entrant should be no surprise: Marcus Mariota. In 2010, the Saint Louis quarterback won the Hawaii state championship and was named the Gatorade Player of the Year. He accepted a scholarship offer from Oregon, and was named the Pac-12 Offensive Freshman of the year in 2012 as well as the Fiesta Bowl Offensive MVP after a victory over fifth-ranked Kansas State. The next year, he was named to the Pac-12 All-Conference 1st Team, landed on a Sports Illustrated Cover, and was named the Alamo Bowl Offensive MVP in a win over Texas. In his third year, which would end up being his final collegiate season, Mariota won virtually all the awards: Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year; All-Conference 1st Team; Pac-12 Championship Game MVP; Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award; Polynesian College Football Player of the Year; the Davey O’Brien Award; the Walter Camp Award; the Maxwell Award, the Heisman Trophy; the AP Player of the Year; the Rose Bowl Offensive MVP; and the Manning Award. He was a unanimous All-American, and was on the cover of two Sports Illustrated magazines. He was drafted second overall by the Tennessee Titans in the 2015 NFL Draft and quickly became a starter. In 2017, he led the Titans to their first playoff win since 2003 in a comeback victory against the Chiefs. He currently remains on the Tennessee Roster.

For more retrospective coverage of the 2010s, check out KHON2’s Actors of the Decade, Musicians of the Decade, and Sights and Sounds of the Decade.

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