Young Mus­tang Soc­cer Team Full Of Sur­prises In Fi­nal Weeks

MidWeek Islander (Windward Oahu) - - Windward Oahu Sports - By JACK DANILEWICZ

Of the 12 teams qual­i­fied for next week’s Di­vi­sion I boys state soc­cer tour­na­ment, none will en­ter the event more un­der the radar than Kala­heo.

Only two years af­ter be­ing in DII, the Mus­tangs found them­selves as some­thing of a new­comer at the Fi­nal Four of last week’s OIA tour­na­ment amid tra­di­tional DI pow­ers Kapolei, Mililani and Kalani — which is fine with long­time head coach John Nak­a­gawa.

“All the credit to the play­ers — it is about them,” Nak­a­gawa said. “We are both a new team and a young team, and it took them awhile to evolve to the point where they knew what their iden­tity was.

“This year’s team is en­tirely dif­fer­ent from last year’s. We grad­u­ated 10 se­niors and have only four starters back from that team. It was more than a re­build­ing year, it was a re­con­struc­tion project.

“Striv­ing to have a team that’s co­he­sive is not easy, es­pe­cially when you have so many new play­ers. Qual­i­fy­ing for the state tour­na­ment has been our goal since pre­sea­son, so we’re very, very ex­cited.”

And it’s a suc­cess­ful re­con­struc­tion project at that. The Mus­tangs en­tered last Thurs­day’s late OIA semi­fi­nal against West’s No. 1 Mililani with an 8- 1- 2 record. Their lone de­feat, a 4- 0 loss to Moanalua, came Dec. 12 in week one. Kala­heo then went on a 10-game win­ning streak, ty­ing Kalani 2-2 and Kaiser 11.

Its 1-0 win over Cas­tle last Wed­nes­day in the OIA quar­ter­fi­nals of­fi­cially punched its ticket for states.

This week, the team is re­group­ing. The cham­pi­onship and third- place games were to be played Satur­day be­fore Kala­heo’s two-week lay­off. The team plays a first-round game ei­ther Feb. 20 or 21. Pair­ings for the DI state soc­cer tour­ney, which will play out at var­i­ous sites around the state, will be re­leased late Sun­day.

“It is a long but wel­come break,” Nak­a­gawa ad­mit­ted. “It al­ready has been a long sea­son, and this will give the play­ers a chance to re­cu­per­ate. We’ll do our best to keep them from get­ting stale.”

Among its strengths has been the abil­ity to de­fend, not just with four de­fend­ers and a goal­keeper, but with all 10 play­ers on the field, ac­cord­ing to Nak­a­gawa. Through 11 games, Kala­heo al­ready had four shutouts, and it yielded only a sin­gle goal in four other out­ings. The open­ing loss to Moanalua aside, only two teams — Kalani and McKin­ley (a 5-2 Kala­heo win) — man­aged to score two goals against it.

“Our ( ex­e­cu­tion on) de­fense has been an evo­lu­tion­ary process,” the coach ex­plained. “It took awhile for ev­ery­one to buy in. When we do turn the ball over, we have to play high-pres­sure de­fense from the for­wards all the way back (to the mid­field­ers and de­fend­ers).

If Kala­heo could be de­scribed in a word, it would be “work­man­like,” as the team re­sem­bles a band with­out a true front man. There are 17 play­ers, three of them goalies, and all have played a big part in Kala­heo’s suc­cess, Nak­a­gawa said.

“We’re go­ing to rely on ev­ery­one to con­trib­ute,” he noted about the com­ing week. “A ma­jor fac­tor (at states) is ex­pe­ri­ence and depth. We’re short on both.

“We want to be as fit as we can be and in­juryfree and see how far it takes us. We think we’ve been hit­ting our stride and our po­ten­tial.”

Kala­heo’s first- round game will be ei­ther on Maui or at Wai­pio Soc­cer Com­plex. The tour­ney shifts to Oahu af­ter that, with the semi­fi­nals and fi­nals Feb. 27- 28 at Wai­pio.

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