By MATT GERHART
Tribune-Herald sports writer
They came in as freshmen and helped Konawaena get back to the Hawaii High School Athletic Association tournament. As super sophomores, the Wildcats reclaimed the Big Island Interscholastic Federation Division I title. The junior class has learned a lot along the way, girls soccer coach Guy Miranda says, not the least of which is the importance of teamwork.
As he did last season, Miranda likes to use chopsticks as a metaphor to convey a message: one person can break one chopstick, but not 11. To handle that task, you need 11 players working in perfect unity.
“Been stressing that all week,” Miranda said. “They remember and they’ll never forget. It’s just proves how much of a good person you are if your work together. We may or may not have the best players, but we’re still working together and that’s a huge thing.”
The Wildcats lost just two seniors, but Miranda is interested to see how the team functions without fleet-footed Ua Ruedy and BIIF Division I Player of the Year Saxon Nagata, two players who put a lot of pressure on opposing teams and in turn took it off of their teammates.
“It’s up to the rest to handle it now,” Miranda said.
This year’s seniors will have their say, too. Rayne Izumi-Baltero and Jetahn McRight made first-team all-BIIF last year and help form the backbone of the back line, while Pua Ubando can play fullback or on the wings at midfield. Meanwhile, sophomore Alissa Nahale-Bianco will look to build on her solid first season at center back, and sophomore Kawehi Kahele will see time up top.
But it’s the play of the 11th-graders that will likely have the biggest say in how far Konawaena can go. Miranda said most of them were already experienced soccer players when he started working with the group during a summer program before its freshmen year.
“They all had good ball skills and that makes it easy to translate to the high school game,” Miranda said. “They should be a little more experienced after going to states twice. Hopefully, they’ve matured.”
Forward Kaulana Ruedy (10 goals) is the team’s leading returning scorer and adept at handling pressure situations, Miranda said, while Shayli Nakamoto will provide scoring punch whether she plays up top or on the flanks. Another option at forward is Kapii Alu.
There are three solid pieces at center midfield in Chloe Delaney, Mikala Fernandez and Jashea Leleiwi, who could also play fullback. Nikki Kunitomo is a winger, while Star Chinen will play on the outside at fullback.
Miranda prefers two plays to goalkeepers, and lately he’s been swapping sophomore Taiana Tolleson and junior Kililani Kunitomo every 20 minutes.
“If one is sitting on the bench they are not doing me any good,” he said. “I need them both.”
Miranda said the Wildcats are off to their notorious slow start as they get set today to host their preseason soccer tournament, which will include BIIF teams Kamehameha and Honokaa as well as defending champion Pac 5 of the Interscholastic League of Honolulu and Kaiser, the Oahu Interscholastic Association team that beat Konawaena in the state quarterfinals last season. The Cougars and Wildcats also will hook up at 6 p.m. Saturday in the fourth annual Guava Bowl. Konawaena won the bowl for the first time last season.
Castle vs. Kamehameha-Hawaii, noon
Honokaa vs. Kaiser No. 2, 2 p.m.
Baldwin vs. Kaiser No. 1, 4 p.m.
Konawaena vs. Pac 5, 6 p.m.
Honokaa-Kaiser 2 winner vs. Konawaena-Pac 5 winner, 10 a.m.
Castle-Kamehameha-Hawaii winner vs. Baldwin-Kaiser 1 winner, noon
Honokaa-Kaiser 2 loser vs. Konawaena-Pac 5 loser, 2 p.m.
Castle-Kamehameha-Hawaii loser vs. Baldwin-Kaiser 1 loser, 4 p.m.
Guava Bowl: Kaiser vs. Konawaena, 6 p.m.
Seventh place, 8 a.m.
Fifth place, 10 a.m.
Third place, noon
Championship, 2 p.m.
Editor’s note: This is another installment in a continuing series of BIIF soccer previews.
Next up: Honokaa boys, Saturday