LAHAINA - As Christian Carbajal walks around the wrestling room at the Lahainaluna High School gymnasium, he is a small guy who carries a big aura.
The 5-foot-4 Carbajal has developed from a shy freshman who didn't make it to the mat much three years ago because of grade problems to a senior who is a second-year captain of the vaunted Lunas' wrestling program.
The respect he has earned from fellow wrestlers is palpable as they ask him what is going on, what they should be doing and where should they do it as practice commences.
Christian Carbajal, who was the state runner-up at 108 pounds last season, will compete at 120 for Lahainaluna High School at the Maui Invitational Tournament, which begins today.
The Maui News / ROBERT COLLIAS photo
At 120 pounds, Carbajal will be in the weight class to watch today and Saturday in the 44th annual Maui Invitational Tournament at the Lahaina Civic Center. Finals start at 6 p.m. Saturday.
That shy freshman who "didn't really care too much about school" has developed into a state-title contender - he was second in the state at 108 last year and sixth as a sophomore - and a student who had a 3.1 grade-point average last quarter.
He is in line to be the first member of his family of six to attend college, where he plans to wrestle.
Maui Invitational Tournament
Today and Saturday At Lahaina Civic Center
Teams-Baldwin, Damien, Hana, Iolani, Kamehameha Maui, King Kekaulike, Konawaena, Lahainaluna, Lanai, Maui High, Mililani, Molokai, Nanakuli, Pac-Five, Waianae.
Admission-$3 for adults, $2 for youths grades K-12 and senior citizens.
Weights to watch
114-Finals could be a rematch of last year's MIL finals between league champion Gerald Dionio of Maui High and Kahi Tihada of Lahainaluna. Justin Raymond, of Konawaena, the BIIF 108-pound champion, will also challenge.
120-Could be the match of the tournament between Pac-Five's Cassidy Oshiro, the two-time defending state champion at 108 and 114 pounds, and 108-pound state runner-up Christian Carbajal of Lahinaluna. Iolani's Logan Yamamoto, fifth in the state at 120, will push Carbajal in semifinals.
125-Josh Terao of Pac-Five is a powerhouse and was undefeated last year at 108 pounds en route to winning a state title as a freshman. Stiffest competition will come from Sage Aoki of Konawaena, a two-time state placer.
130-Iolani's Holden Takahashi was state runner-up last year. Defending MIL champion Jarrin Cabo of Maui High or Mililani's Cody Uyejo, third in the OIA, could challenge.
145-Andrew Kahalewai of Kamehameha Maui was third in the state at the same weight class. Competition will come from King Kekaulike's Austin Bloch, third in the state at 135; Miliani's Robert Kim, the OIA champ; and Sean Chan of Iolani.
189-Totauhelotu Lotulelei of Maui High was fifth in the state and should meet Mililani's Jeff Sanchez, the OIA champ, in the finals.
103-Two state runners-up should battle in the final. Mikayla Pico of Molokai was second at 108 pounds, while Choloe Nakagawa of Pac-Five lost to Kamehameha Maui's Nikki Davis in last year's 108 state finals. Maui High's Miya Fukushima, the 103-pound MIL champion, could challenge.
120-Kiana Yamat of Lahainaluna was fourth in the state at the same weight while Lauren Dias of Mililani was fourth in the state at 103.
130-Could be an all-MIL final between MIL champions Jenna Miyamoto (125) of Lahainaluna and Rizpah Torres-Umi (120) of Molokai. Miyamoto was third in the state while Torres-Umi was sixth last season.
140-Charisse Manley was MIL champ and fourth in the state at 130 pounds, while Morgan Yamaguchi of Mililani was fifth in the state at 125.
"I'm a whole different person now, my grades are better, I study harder," he said prior to practice on Wednesday. "I also work harder on the mat, my technique is looking better. I am just an all-around better person."
Lahainaluna co-head coach Todd Hayase said Carbajal has grown exponentially in all facets.
"Christian has grown into just this incredible individual, just this incredible person," Hayase said. "Not just in wrestling, he has matured in every way. I literally look at him as a coach - with his wrestling, his ability, his technique, his rapport with the kids, his positive relationship, his being a captain. It is just incredible. Academically he has stepped up in all facets and he is just so passionate about wrestling, it is just incredible."
Pac-Five's Cassidy Oshiro, a state champion at 108 in 2010 and 114 pounds in 2011, will be in Carbajal's 120-pound weight class this weekend.
"Getting second last year definitely is going to help me get first this year," Carbajal said. "I am going to train harder, even harder than I did last year. It is going to help me push through all those hard practices, just knowing I got second last year, being that close to first."Carbajal
Carbajal is seeking his first MIT crown after finishing third last year. He broke his hand in an MIT match as a sophomore.
"It would mean a lot if I can win, just give me that driving step forward to keep going, help me know that I am ready for a state title," he said.
Jamestown College in North Dakota and Grand Canyon University in Arizona are a couple of the colleges on Carbajal's wish list.
"I have learned that if you want to compete at the college level, you have to be a good student-athlete, grades come first," Carbajal said. "If I can get to college, it would mean a lot to my family. It would show that I am growing and I can support myself and they would be proud of me. I will be able to achieve something they didn't get to."
His parents, Edna and Santos Carbajal, come to almost all of his matches.
"My dad loves watching me wrestle, he says that he is proud of me," Carbajal said. "My mom is always excited to see me wrestle. She used to get scared when I was a sophomore, but now she's confident in me."
Travis Okano, one of only two three-time state champion wrestlers ever from the Maui Interscholastic League, and Holden Mowat, also a state champion, are two former Lunas that Carbajal has learned from.
"Travis taught me that just wrestling hard, staying in position is going to get you into takedowns and that is what you need - you can't be a defensive wrestler," Carbajal said. "Holden taught me that it is not just all technique, you need the cardio, too. You need to be able to push yourself through all three rounds."
As a state placer, Carbajal has spent his last two summers on Oahu with Team Hawaii, working with other state medalists at Farrington and Punahou gyms.
"Everyone there was if not as good as me, better," Carbajal said. "I was banging with a lot of good guys, which made me better."
Shane Cunanan, a former Washington state champion and All-American at West Virginia University, has joined the Luna staff and often gets on the mat to tangle with Carbajal.
"We have had a really good program for a lot of years already," Carbajal said. "Everyone knows how to push you and knows how to make you a better wrestler. Coach Shane has just been showing me that collegiate wrestling is more of positioning and getting your body in position, so he has been helping me a lot."
* Robert Collias is at email@example.com