By MATT GERHART
Tribune-Herald sports writer
True to their team motto, the Hawaii Preparatory Academy girls didn’t waste any time.
The Ka Makani soccer team made just one appearance at the Big Island Candies Hilo Bay Classic, and it was an impressive one. Looking for a preseason challenge, they took on Hilo, but it’s debatable whether they got what they wanted. Nanea Tavares, Marlie Mandaguit, Gabbie Ewing and Lauren Pries scored Saturday as HPA made quick work of the Vikings during a 4-0 victory.
Before heading back to Waimea, the Ka Makani gathered and shouted as one: “Purpose.”
“During practice, during warm-ups, we do everything for a reason,” Ewing, a sophomore, said of the team mantra. “Working hard every second when we’re touching the ball. Making sure we’re doing what we’re supposed to be so that we can get to our bigger goals.”
The Ka Makani played with purpose last season, and the only goal that alluded them came during a 1-0 setback against Mid-Pacific in the Hawaii High School Athletic Association Division II title game.
The three-time defending Big Island Interscholastic Federation champions need to replace some key pieces, but they return their heart and soul: ample amounts of firepower, depth and leadership.
“Potentially, it’s one of our better teams. We have younger girls coming in that are lot more prepared for high school,” coach Steve Perry said. “This is going to be our deepest team in a long time. We can bring in Nos. 12, 13, 14 and there’s no drop-off.
“We have some skill. I thing we have a little more flexibility this year as far as weapons, which is always a good thing. We need to make sure we’re working together, and finding each other.”
Vikings coach Paul Bello was quick and to the point: “They’re wicked; a well-coached machine with athletic, athletic players. I think they’re a better team than last year.”
Said Honokaa coach Gerald Shiraki of a recent scrimmage: “(HPA) just took us apart.”
The 2012 Ka Makani finished 15-2 — the other defeat was a one-goal loss on the road to eventual BIIF Division I champion Kealakehe — running out of time against the Owls to finish state runner-up.
“Even though we lost, we still felt like we played our best and that’s all that matters. Win or lose, we lost as a team and really wanted it,” said Tavares, who scored a team-high 19 goals last season.
The three holes that HPA is trying fill came with the graduations of Katie Case (midfield), Leeta Grap (sweeper) and Hannah Unger (goalkeeper), a trio that brought a formidable presence to the field.
Case scored 14 times last season. However, the Ka Makani shouldn’t have any problems generating goals, not with players such as Tavares — one of the BIIF’s biggest scoring threats — sophomore outside midfielder Bri Vallente (17), Ewing (nine) and Emily Evans (six) in the fold.
Tavares wants to score “at least 25 goals” this season, and she looks at that as more of a team accomplishment than an individual one.
“My teammates are helping me out by passing and communicating,” she said. “They’re all trying to help me reach this goal because they know how bad I want it.
“I know it’s not all about me. I’m thankful for my team and they’re very supportive. We’re all here to do our best this year.”
Tavares will be matched on top with Mandaguit, a freshman, and Perry noted the duo already has formed good chemistry. The other freshman starter will be Erin Evans.
Two senior co-captains, Emily Evans and Pries, will hold down the middle along with Ewing, with one playing stopper.
The other senior co-captain is Jessica Benioni, who scored four goals last season.
“The three are really strong,” Ewing said. “I think a lot of us look up to them.”
Senior Jasmine Fojas takes over at sweeper, though sophomore Teia Knoll will also be in the mix, and junior Kristiana Van Pernis will move from midfield to help solidify the backline.
HPA continues its preseason this weekend at its annual Ka Makani Classic, giving junior Morgan Monahan more time to gain confidence in goal. She backed up Unger last season.
“We’re really counting on Morgan to step in for Hannah,” Ewing said. “She’s been working really hard and been doing really well.”
Tavares and Ewing echoed their coach in saying that HPA has the potential to better than last season, but for now they said the team’s first and only purpose is reaching BIIFs.
“If we keep working on it, we’ll do really well, and we can go really far,” Ewing said.
“One step at a time,” Tavares said.
Editor’s note: This is the third installment in a series of BIIF soccer previews.