Wildcats stun HPA, earn state berth
They’ve seen other teams at their school perform at a high level, winning championships left and right.
That kind of success, Konawaena boys soccer assistant coach Phil Fukushima said, has inspired his own players, and now they have an opportunity to reach the mountaintop.
Jarry Southerland and Gavin McKittrick scored first-half goals in Waimea, and Konawaena held off Hawaii Prep 2-1 in a Big Island Interscholastic Federation semifinal.
With the victory, the Wildcats (10-3-2) earned a berth in the Hawaii High School Athletic Association Division II state tournament, which takes place Feb. 6-9 on Oahu. Also, it gives Konawaena a chance to win its first boys soccer BIIF title since 1981.
The Wildcats will get that opportunity at 5 p.m. Saturday, when they host Christian Liberty (11-3-1) in a game that will decide the league’s No. 1 and No. 2 seeds in the state tournament.
Hawaii Prep (12-2) already earned a state tourney berth by virtue of winning the regular-season Division II title.
“We’re excited for the chance to win a BIIF title, but we’ve been inspired, not only by the girls soccer program, but the other athletic programs,” Fukushima said. “They all support each other in their endeavors.”
Southerland scored his third goal in the 10th minute after he jumped on a failed HPA clearance attempt.
Five minutes later, McKittrick scored for the first time on what HPA coach Richard Braithwaite called the most specacular goal of the season.
A pass from the right side, Braithwaite said, appeared to be off the mark, but McKittrick one-timed the ball into the upper right corner from 22 yards out.
Junior Teak Owen cut the lead in half by scoring his second goal in the 30th minute.
HPA’s offense continued sending quality shots at goalkeeper Coran Yamamoto, who repeatedly turned Ka Makani away.
“(Yamamoto) made four absolutely top-notch saves,” Braithwaite said. “I thought we were going to get several more goals.”
HPA beat Konawaena 7-1 on the road in the regular-season meeting between the teams on Dec. 18.
However, Fukushima said, the team’s back line of Justin Uchimura, Gabriel Magana, Sergio Garcia and Gerardo Meneses has “improved five-fold” since the beginning of the season. Skye Suzuki rotates into the defense when Meneses plays in the midfield or at forward.
“It starts with the two center backs, Justin and Gabriel,” Fukushima said. “It’s their leadership at the center back play, and it’s a matter of them jelling, learning to play together.
“They have a lot of confidence in each other and their ability to handle the ball.”
Meanwhile, moving prolific forward John Replogle from forward to midfield has also paid dividends.
“His physical play, winning the ball and his distribution, John gives us great opportunities to move the ball forward,” Fukushima said.