By JOE FERRARO
KEALAKEKUA — With a handful of chopsticks, Konawaena girls soccer coach Guy Miranda hammered home the importance of unity.
Early in the season, he handed one set of chopsticks to Mikala Fernandez and asked her to break it. She did.
Then Miranda gave her 11 sets of chopsticks and asked her to break all of them at once. Fernandez didn’t have a chance.
“If we’re working as a team, we’ll be hard to beat,’’ the Konawaena coach said Saturday at Julian Yates Field.
The Wildcats showed the teamwork Miranda wanted, and it translated into a 3-1 victory over Kealakehe in the Big Island Interscholastic Federation Division I final.
Both teams will play in the Hawaii High School Athletic Association Division I tournament, which begins Wednesday and runs through Feb. 2 at Oahu’s Waipio Peninsula Soccer Complex.
The victory for the Wildcats (11-1-1) marked their first soccer championship since the team won the last of three consecutive titles in 2008. It was the first title for Konawaena’s senior class.
Kealakehe, which beat Konawaena 1-0 in last year’s BIIF championship game, will head to Oahu 10-1-2. When asked about the difference, between last year’s Wildcats and this year’s Konawaena team, senior Ua Ruedy emphasized hunger.
“I feel like we were satisfied with going to states last year,’’ Ruedy said. “This year, we had to try hard to win the BIIF.’’
Ruedy put the Wildcats on top to stay in the eighth minute, when a pass from the right side of the field into the penalty box deflected off senior Saxon Nagata’s knee and to Ruedy, who powered home a shot into the upper left corner for her 10th goal of the season.
Shayli Nakamoto, parked near the left goalpost in the 28th minute, made it 2-0 when she knocked home a rebound off a shot by Fernandez.
Kealakehe’s Lexie Cuaresma cut the lead in half in the 47th minute with her team-high 13th goal, but Konawaena’s Makani Wall gave the Wildcats some breathing room when she headed in a cross from Kaulana Ruedy for her sixth goal in the 58th minute.
Shortly thereafter, Nagata said, she knew Konawaena had this long-awaited championship in the bag.
“Team-wise, we worked more together and connected more passes and possessed the ball more,’’ Nagata said when comparing last year’s team to this year’s Wildcats. “We had more unity.’’
And that’s exactly what Miranda preached when he used his chopsticks.
“They came to play tonight,’’ Miranda said. “They started the game with good possession, and they really wanted it.
“They were first to the ball, and the teamwork was incredible. I’m so proud of them.’’