By MATT GERHART
Tribune-Herald sports writer
KEALAKEKUA — Way back in the preseason, Konawaena’s coaches tried their hardest to remind their players that they weren’t just part of West Hawaii’s “other” soccer program. One that never wins championships.
The coaches gave the Wildcats two numbers to remember: 1981 and 32, as in years since Konawaena’s last Big Island Interscholastic Federation boys soccer title.
They even put four stars on the practice jerseys, representing the number of BIIF titles in the program’s history.
“We wanted them to know that this program has tradition,” assistant coach Phil Fukushima said.
Point well taken. Konawaena went out and earned a fifth star Saturday night.
Gabriel Magana scored on a penalty kick with 4:29 remaining at Julian Yates Field, and the Wildcats beat Christian Liberty 1-0 for the Division II title.
“That’s what I was thinking when I was taking the PK,” Magana said. “I wanted to be part of history. I wanted to show my children and grandchildren that I was part of something special.”
It was another heartbreaking loss for the Canefire (11-4-1), who were denied their first BIIF title by falling short in the BIIF final for the third time in four years.
Konawaena (11-3-2) earned the top seed at the eight-team Hawaii High School Athletic Association tournament, and will open with Farrington at 3 p.m. Thursday at Oahu’s Waipio Peninsula Soccer Complex.
Christian Liberty can take heart in that it still can reach its season-long goal of playing two matches at 5 p.m. at the end of the season by winning two contests at states and advancing to another evening final. The Canefire play No. 3 Kalaheo at 3 p.m. Thursday.
“I told the team to learn from this, get over it and get ready for states,” Christian Liberty soccer coach Troy Rimel said. “We want to play at 5 p.m. again. We are still on track.”
Regular-season BIIF champion Hawaii Prep (12-2), who the Wildcats beat in the BIIF semifinals, drew No. 2 Kapaa at 3 p.m. Thursday.
But it’s Konawaena that heads to Oahu with all the momentum.
After the preseason history lesson, the coaches gave the team another message midseason: If you want to be a middle-of-the-pack team, keep doing what you’re doing. If not, let’s change.
“Almost to a man, they said they would play wherever we needed them,” said Fukushima, who works with coach Keahi Warfield. “The other strength of this team is we can move guys to different positions and they understand how to play.”
Magana volunteered to play lockdown defense, while leading scorer John Replogle moved from forward to midfield.
As a result, Konawaena finished with a flurry, allowing only one goal in the postseason as defenders such as Magana, Justin Uchimura and Sergio Garcia stood their ground in front of goalkeeper Coran Yamamoto.
“Better passing, talking, communication,” Magana said.
Not that Christian Liberty didn’t have its share of chances in the final.
The Canefire had the better of the play in the first half, holding a 10-4 advantage in shots. Junior Nakaiya Kerr, who was all over the field creating chances, had a golden one in the 32nd minute from close range on the left side, but he was stonewalled by Yamamoto, who made eight saves. After a corner kick in the second half, Garcia headed a ball out near the goal line that was ticketed for the net.
“I credit their defense,” Rimel said. “They changed things up and flashed well, and when we couldn’t capitalize on our opportunities, we got frustrated. And they have a phenomenal goaltender.”
Christian Liberty goalkeeper Keanu Bergfeld’s best save came in the first half when he nearly left the penalty box to deny Jerry Southerland.
Louis Moylan’s goal was disallowed because of an offsides call early in the second half for the Canefire, then the Wildcats started to exert more pressure.
Fukushima and Replogle talked at the half about finding the opportune time to move him up to forward.
Sure enough, once Replogle moved up top as the lone forward late in the match, he crashed the net, and Keenan Freitas’ handball in the box set up the penalty kick.
Replogle chose Magana to take the kick.
“John used to take them, but he has confidence in me,” Magana said. “He knows I’m going to score every time.”
Because of it, there’s another soccer power in West Hawaii.