Coach Count­ing On Kailua De­fense At State Soc­cer Tour­ney

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

Mid­sea­son found Kailua’s boys soc­cer team mak­ing a name for it­self on the of­fen­sive end with 31 goals dur­ing a four-game stretch.

It’s de­fense, how­ever, that head coach Steve Dig­nam hopes his team will be known for by the end of this week as it en­ters the Di­vi­sion II state soc­cer cham­pi­onships.

“We’re good at scor­ing,” said Dig­nam, whose Surfrid­ers are cur­rently 8-4 over­all af­ter win­ning the OIA DII tour­na­ment. “The team that wins (the state ti­tle) will be the one that makes the least num­ber of mis­takes, de­fen­sively.

“We have our mo­ments,” he ad­mit­ted. “It’s one of the things we’ve been work­ing on. A lot has to do with the men­tal part. We tend to get men­tally lazy and are slow to get where we need to. In the last few games, we’ve played a lot bet­ter (on de­fense). They’ve pro­gressed to where they’ve learned their roles, and we have our ro­ta­tion down.”

The team has given up just three goals in its last five games and shut out both Wa­ialua (1-0 in the semi­fi­nals) and Waipahu (6-0) in the OIA DII tour- na­ment.

Dig­nam noted the play of de­fend­ers Ri­p­ley Que­bral, Noah Vega and Dustin Imanaka as well as fresh­man goalie Chris Gen­try.

“They’ve been very solid in the back, and (Gen­try) is play­ing huge right now. The kid has come so far, es­pe­cially for not hav­ing played goal­keeper (in high school) be­fore.”

Among Kailua’s strengths this year has been the play of mid­field­ers Colin Kub­ota and Trevor Tam. Dig­nam ex­pects both to fig­ure big in Kailua’s hopes this week. “They have to con­trol the mid­dle of the field,” he said.

Se­nior Naia Gra­ham helped fuel the of­fen­sive flour­ish at mid­sea­son. The OIA East Co-Player of the Year as a ju­nior, Gra­ham was in Florida in De­cem­ber for a na­tional club tour­na­ment and missed Kailua’s first two games. He re­turned in a big way against Far­ring­ton Dec. 27, scor­ing five goals in a 10-0 win. He had five goals each in wins over McKin­ley and Kaimuki and has con­tin­ued to blos­som with a state-lead­ing 25 goals, en­ter­ing this week.

“He’s ma­tured this year and un­der­stands his role as our go-to guy,” Dig­nam said. “The other teams all will know about him, so we can’t rely on him for ev­ery­thing. We’ve been hav­ing two or three de­fend­ers at prac­tice al­ways sur­round­ing him. He some­times beats the three play­ers. I marvel at his ball skills.”

Se­nior for­ward Chance Kealoha-Su­nio also has given Kailua a lift of late. “He was big in the (OIA) cham­pi­onship game — he made a big dif­fer­ence, just with his ball skills. I would put him No. 2 or 3 on the team be­hind Naia as far as ball skills.”

The cham­pi­onships will run Thurs­day-Satur­day at Wai­pio Penin­sula Soc­cer Park’s main sta­dium. Kailua was seeded third be­hind KS-Maui and top-seed MidPa­cific of the ILH.

By Kailua’s quar­ter­fi­nal game Thurs­day against ei­ther Se­abury Hall or Honokaa, the team will have had a 19-day lay­off since their last game. “We wanted to line up a scrim­mage, but we couldn’t make it hap­pen,” said Dig­nam. “Ev­ery­one is in the same boat (re­gard­ing the lay­off). The prob­lem with a long lay­off is that it be­comes harder and harder (to stay fo­cused). Our kids are itch­ing to go.”

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