By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
KEAAU — Kamehameha beat Honokaa, 2-1 once again, in another Big Island Interscholastic Federation girls soccer match, the third such meeting so far, but with bigger consequences.
Warriors forward Kera Akiyama scored the game-winner two minutes into the second half against the Dragons in the BIIF Division II semifinals on Tuesday at Paie‘a Stadium, giving the Warriors a chance to win their first league title since 2009.
“It was a really nice pass from Tiana (Iwata, a midfielder). I was in the right place at the right time,” Akiyama said. “Everyone on the team pushed hard to the end, like the last time (also a Kamehameha 2-1 win over Honokaa). The key was we practiced on our offense, which we had a little trouble with. Our defense and midfield are solid. We worked hard to get the ball in the net.”
Kamehameha (9-3) will play three-time defending league champion Hawaii Prep (9-1-2) at 5 p.m. Saturday at Konawaena’s Julian Yates Field for the BIIF Division II championship.
In the other semifinal, the Ka Makani defeated Makua Lani 5-1 in Waimea. Emily Evans scored three goals, and had an assist while Nanea Tavares and Marlie Mandaguit added goals for the Ka Makani. Keili Dorn scored the Lions.
With the elimination of the BIIF quarterfinals, the top four teams in the Division II standings earned early berths to the Hawaii High School Athletic Association state tournament. Quarterfinals or not, it’s usually no surprise who the four teams are that make it to states.
Hawaii Prep, Kamehameha, Honokaa and Makua Lani have been going together to states since 2009. The last time someone different went was 2008, with Christian Liberty as the No. 4 seed.
Since statewide classification in 2007, Kamehameha and Honokaa have strung together a long run of consecutive appearances. The Warriors have been to states for six straight seasons, and the Dragons a year longer.
Honokaa (6-5-1) will head to states as the league’s No. 3 seed while Makua Lani (4-8) will be the No. 4 seed, its third straight year in that spot.
In the regular season meeting, Kamehameha rallied from a 1-0 halftime deficit to beat Honokaa 2-1 at home. Tiffany Pacheco scored the equalizer and Harper Hottendorf got the game-winner. Monica Carlos scored on a free kick in the first half for the Dragons.
Tuesday’s game was delayed for 40 minutes due to the late arrival of the third referee, which added to the anticipation between the two teams on a sunny day with a rather persistent wind blowing at the mauka goal.
It made little difference to the Dragons, who were going against the wind in the first half, at least in the early part. They quickly showed an effective direct attack, scoring two minutes into the game.
Right striker Allie Shiraki received a long pass from across the field from Kelly Greenwell, settled the ball to her feet, took a few dribbles and fired before the defense could race back to help for a 1-0 lead.
Then Kamehameha’s defense man-marked everyone with more precision, especially sophomore fullback Meagan Kuali‘i, who was tasked with guarding the fleet-footed and well-skilled Carlos.
“Meagan is an unbelievable player,” Kamehameha coach Sonya Ah Chong said. “She listens well and knows what her job is and takes it seriously. We give her a lot (of responsibility) to mark who she needs to and she goes out and does it.”
Every time a pass came near Carlos, Kuali‘i was breathing down the Honokaa senior forward’s neck, not letting her turn with the ball, for the most part. Carlos had one good look late in the first half, chipping a shot over the crossbar.
Meanwhile, the Warriors passed much better, especially with freshman sweeper Kekai Wong Yuen, than the Dragons, who had a tough time advancing the ball to forwards Shiraki and Carlos, let alone getting it to midfield.
From the back, Wong Yuen would drill an outlet pass to the sidelines and the Warriors would work triangles up the field. In contrast, when Honokaa’s backline tried to pass or clear, Kamehameha intercepted the ball, creating additional scoring chances.
“That’s what we want to do, maintain possession of the ball,” Ah Chong said. “Kekai is young and learning. When she holds her position, she cleans up and she’s learning to take a leadership role.
“We want our forwards to come back and help. My midfielder, Tiana, has great vision. She’s a seer. Kera’s a complete package. She knows when to hold on to it and when to release it. She works hard all the time and never gives up. She keeps pushing.”
Then 10 minutes later, freshman Bryana-Marie Ebbers made a run on a ball near the top of the penalty box from Wong Yuen, and knocked home the score for a 1-1 tie. She also barely missed a second goal late in the first half, bouncing a shot off the post after receiving a mail-order pass from Akiyama on the right wing.
“It’s the same score every time. In the preseason we lost to them 2-1 and in the regular season it was the same score,” Honokaa coach Gerald Shiraki said. “We can’t get over the hump. We moved Allie to forward from midfield to change the lineup. It gave us scoring chances, but we couldn’t finish in front of the goal.
“I think the last time we beat Kamehameha was three years ago. It’s always been close. The last six times have been a one-goal difference.”