By MATT GERHART
Tribune-Herald sports writer
Kamehameha doesn’t have Honokaa’s hardware, nor can it match the recent state pedigree of Christian Liberty, Makua Lani or even Konawaena.
Hawaii Prep has a better infusion of fresh talent, and in finishing seventh last season, the Warriors also were looking up at Parker.
None of those Big Island Interscholastic Federation Division II boys soccer teams, however, are likely to equal Kamehameha’s depth.
While a lot of coaches still are figuring out who can help out off the bench, Christopher King-Gates is trying to find a way to fit in all his able bodies.
“We have the opposite problem,” the fourth-year coach said. “We’re having trouble setting the starting lineup. We have a number of players where in past years they would have been a starter, but this year we have tremendous depth.
“It’s a problem I like to have. We have roster where I have 22 to 24 guys who I would be comfortable playing in the field. I don’t worry putting in anybody from the bench. This year, we have two to three guys who can step up into any given spot.”
The boys and girls programs at Kamehameha have made a concerted effort to develop their middle school programs, and the results are starting to show with big turnouts at the upper school.
Kamehameha had 22 players when King-Gates took over three years ago, and that number has steadily risen this year to 60 — JV and varsity — which is higher than the entire high school boys enrollment at some D-II schools.
“A good core in every single class, and that core is getting bigger,” King-Gates said. “I would attribute that directly to the coaches in the middle school.”
And all that depth is now seasoned as well.
Headlined by seniors David Finley and Jonah Knell and junior Colton Hill, nine starters are back, and that doesn’t include goalkeeper Sean Miday, who received a lot of playing time as a freshman last year.
But while the Warriors will have a familiar look, they should have a different feel when they open the season today against the Ka Makani in Waimea.
After losing 17 seniors in 2011, the Warriors welcomed a flood of new players and spent most of their practice time last year working on the basic skills: footwork, touches, passing.
The Warriors hope to reap the fruits of their labor this time around.
“Now we’re working with players who have the fundamentals down and we’re working on some of the more complex aspects of the game,” King-Gates said. “We’re starting out as a much stronger team than the way we ended (last year). We are going to be able to play very fluidly, which I think is going to be a strength this year. This is the first year we have players who know what they are doing on the ball from every single position from defense on up.
“We are going to be playing with a mix. Our boys know when to possess the ball when it’s appropriate, and they know to play direct when its appropriate as well.”
The Warriors will need to be multifaceted to contend in a loaded D-II.
King-Gates sees seven contenders, and only six will make the playoffs to vie for three spots at the Hawaii High School Athletic Association tournament. Kamehameha hasn’t been to states since 2009 — when the BIIF had five spots — though it lost in the third-place match in 2010 and 2011.
One problem last season was slow starts, but Finley, a senior captain, thinks the Warriors have put those issues behind them.
“We’re hoping this year we start to get more into the flow,” he said. “I think we are a little more balance this year. As a team, we have better chemistry, but we still need to work hard.”
Along with Hill, Finley will help orchestrate the offense at center midfield for forwards Knell, a strong finisher, and sophomore Preston Branco, the team’s leading returning scorer with nine goals last year.
King-Gates called Hill a “box-to-box player,” a left-footer who can make a beautiful pass on the attack or sprint back to help out on the defense.
Juniors Koa Thompson and Phil Aganus also will start at midfield, while seniors Maka Kahana and Ikaika Villanueva bring veteran savvy to the backline. Bula Rabang, a sophomore, is tabbed to start, and freshman Pono Brown also is in the mix at fullback.
Finley is familiar with the D-II landscape this season, especially three-time defending champion Honokaa, who the Warriors beat in the preseason, and Christian Liberty, a Keaau neighbor who Kamehameha has forged a rivalry with.
“I think D-II is really competitive,” he said. “It’s going to be really hard to make it to states, but if we work hard enough, and we have the mindset and set the goals right, then I think it’s a realistic goal that we can make.”