By MATT GERHART
Tribune-Herald sports writer
KEAAU — The question posed to Keoni Yates about the future was meant to be a personal one, but leave it to Yates to always think team-first.
As players and fans from Kealakehe were still celebrating Saturday night at Kamehameha’s Paiea Stadium, its standout center midfielder was most excited to talk about next year, when he won’t even be around.
“I really believe it’s going to sustain itself,” he said. “We have talented freshmen and sophomores coming up, and I really see them developing into a very good corp.”
The senior’s role in Kealakehe’s Big Island Interscholastic Federation soccer dynasty is complete, but the cycle seemingly never ends for the Waveriders. They beat Hilo 3-0 to secure their third straight Division I title and a “lucky seventh” for coach Urs Leuenberger, who won his first crown in 2004.
“I love Kealakehe; it’s been a great four years,” said Yates, a four-year starter. “I don’t regret anything. Tonight was another great example of us coming out and playing as a team.
“All season we’ve been building up to this point as usual, and it’s just a great feeling to come out and win 3-0 in the championship. Hopefully, we can carry over the good form into states.”
Kealakehe (14-0-1) is seeded fourth at the Hawaii High School Athletic Association tournament at Waipio Peninsula Soccer Complex. After a bye it opens play in the quarterfinals at 1 p.m. Thursday against the winner of a first-round match between Kamehameha-Maui and Mililani. The Waveriders reached the state semifinals last season. Also at 3 p.m. Wednesday in the first round, Hilo takes on Kapolei (12-3) of the Oahu Interscholastic Association.
Kealakehe beat the Vikings for the second straight year in the BIIF championship game, though Saturday night’s final was more evenly matched and methodical than the Waveriders’ 6-2 runaway victory last year.
“Hilo is unbelievable,” Leuenberger said. “How they play, how they compose themselves, how they string passes together and chances together. The difference mainly is we kind of outhustled them a little bit.
“Because (Hilo) is such a young team, this is going to be a rivalry for years to come.
“We put our chances in the net, they didn’t.”
That’s pretty much how Hilo first-year coach Cameron Castillo saw it as well.
“Happy with our opportunities,” Castillo said, “but not our finishing.”
Senior Scott Henderson scored twice for Kealakehe, capping the scoring on a breakaway late in the match.
Yates was back to control the midfield this season, but Kealakehe had to replace much of what Leuenberger liked to refer to as his “team’s spine” from last season.
“It was difficult because most of our defense was gone,” Henderson said. “Tyler DeVerse really has helped us in the back. A lot of the passing has been more crisp and there’s been a lot of work on that.
“The newcomers coming in have really stepped it up. They came up and pushed us as hard as we do.”
Leuenberger credited Henderson with having a knack for scoring in big games. Of course, he’s scored in most of Kealakehe’s games this season, save for 1-0 victory against Konawaena in the BIIFs semifinals and 0-0 draw against Honokaa on Jan. 14, Kealakehe’s only blemish so far this season.
“We never care about undefeated seasons,” Leuenberger said. “People think so much about it, I don’t really care. I want this game here, I want this night here.
“We did struggle against Konawaena in the semifinals. We didn’t play our game. Tonight we did play our game and it just showed how powerful we can be.”
Hilo and Kealakehe were playing on even terms until Nicholas Joersz scored from about 20 yards out on a piercing blast near the midway point of the first half.
“The ball had so much bend to it, the goalie jumped the other way,” Leuenberger said.
Later in the half, Henderson camped himself in perfect position in the box to redirect Yates’ free kick into the net on a header.
Sophomore goalkeeper Greyson Moore turned in another solid performance for the Waveriders, who kept their BIIF unbeaten streak intact. Kealakehe hasn’t come up short in league match since Honokaa scored in the closing minutes for 1-0 victory at home Jan. 27, 2012.
And to think, there were some whispers earlier in the season around the BIIF that Kealakehe might be vulnerable.
Yates heard the talk, though he really wasn’t listening all that hard.
“We kept it too ourselves,” Yates said. “We could hear all the criticisms, but we left it behind.”
The Vikings head to states for the fifth time in six seasons.
“I told the boys to keep their heads up,” Castillo said. “Take it as a lesson learned.
“Remember this feeling because you don’t want to absorb it again.”