By MATT GERHART
Tribune-Herald sports writer
Ever since the Hawaii High School Athletic Association introduced the Division II soccer tournament in 2007, the Honokaa High girls have ended their season with a trip to states.
Back then, Gerald Shiraki was working with Monica Carlos, Kelly Greenwell, Daisha Acorda, Mae Quiamas and Allie Shiraki on American Youth Soccer Association age-group teams.
Those players are all seniors now for except for Shiraki. And while Gerald Shiraki expects a challenging season ahead, the Dragons still have what he calls their “heart and soul,” giving them a good shot to finish the year just the way they have the past six: on Oahu.
“I’ve coached that group since AYSO U10,” said Gerald Shiraki, who enters his second season as coach. “It’ll be sad to see them go. It’ll be bittersweet. It’ll be good to see them (mature), but of part me is going to be gone.”
Allie Shiraki, a junior and the team’s leading scorer last season with 14 goals, Acorda and Greenwell give the team strength at midfield. Carlos netted 12 goals last season and will play up top, while Quiamas will provide leadership to an inexperienced backline.
Shiraki and Carlos were both all-BIIF Division II first-team selections last season, while Acorda landed on the second team.
“They’ve played a lot of soccer through the years and it shows,” the coach said. “They have technical and tactical skills. Just a good awareness of the field.”
After consecutive Big Island Interscholastic Federation runner-up finishes, Honokaa took third last season behind Hawaii Prep and Kamehameha at 9-8. Three starters graduated and two others moved to the mainland, and the Dragons will have to rely on at least three freshmen this season.
Gerald Shiraki sees three-time champion HPA and Kamehameha as much improved this year, but he’s not sure he can say the same about his team yet.
“We’re developing,” he said. “We have a lot of work ahead of us.”
His daughter is a pretty solid building block, however.
Allie Shiraki can hang back at times to help out on defense, yet opponents still have to be wary of her long-range shots. With a booming right leg, she’s a threat to score soon after she crosses midfield.
Shiraki’s honed her soccer skills since she was 4 year old, but she’s recently taken up more of an interest in softball, a sport she hopes to play in college.
“I think I’ve played soccer so much that I wanted to try something new,” said Shiraki, who played center fielder and hit leadoff for Honokaa’s softball team last season. “I figured out that I’m kind of good at it.”
The three freshmen in the mix are wing forward Tia Agdeppa, midfielder Jeana Altura and Hia Kapu, who will start at fullback with Quiamas, and sophomores Mia Nakachi and Nina Cardoza.
Senior Kaiu Freitas-Lau is the incumbent at goalkeeper, but first-year player Hailey Paglinawan, a junior, has caught her coach’s eye with her athleticism.
Honokaa continues its fine-tuning today at the competitive Wahine Wildcat Preseason Soccer Tournament, then the Dragons start another potential march towards states when they open the regular season at home Dec. 1 against Ka’u.
“I like our players. I wouldn’t switch teams with anybody” Allie Shiraki said. “We’re tyring to make it into the BIIF championship game. We just have to work hard and hopefully we’ll get there.
“We have skilled players. We just have to learn to play together.”