Kealakehe rode a wave of expectations into the Big Island Interscholastic Federation playoffs as the league’s lone unbeaten team and defending champion.
The Waveriders did not disappoint in the BIIF Division I semifinals Wednesday night at Waverider Stadium, knocking off rival Konawaena 1-0 and advancing to the BIIF title game.
“It was the classic crosstown rivalry game,” Kealakehe head coach Urs Leuenberger said. “Konawaena is a great team who came out and played us physical. It took our best effort all season long to win this one, against an opponent I can easily say gave us our best test so far.”
The teams met in the final game of the regular season with Kealakehe edging Konawaena 2-0 to secure an undefeated regular season and the No. 1 seed in Division I.
It didn’t take long for the Waveriders to strike in the rematch. Ari Mench finished on a messy scene in front of the Konawaena net to make it 1-0 less than five minutes in.
Kealakehe continued to pick up chances, including an individual effort by Nicholas Joersz that nearly put the Wildcats in a two-goal hole.
After the initial surge of Waverider scoring opportunities, the Wildcats picked up the pace and physicality.
Senior forward John Replogle led the charge for the Wildcats, driving to the net and generating multiple chances to score. The Waveriders All-BIIF goalkeeper Greyson Moore was up to the task, propelling his body in front of balls with reckless abandon time and time again.
“Greyson played great for us in net,” Leuenberger said of his sophomore goalkeeper. “He rose to the occasion, and stopped anything and everything that came his way.”
The climax of the physicality came after Kealakehe’s Daniel Caudell, jumped for a contested ball, knocking Bailey Hanato to the turf.
Seconds after the incident, Kealakehe captain Keoni Yates was given a yellow card for rough play, resulting in a free kick for the Wildcats.
Soon after that, Scott Henderson was given a yellow card after a hard collision with the Konawaena goalkeeper.The calls drew loud groans of displeasure from the home crowd.
With a second yellow card resulting in ejection, the two Kealakehe stars had to play smart, while the intensity of the winner-take-all matchup continued to escalate.
“This is the semifinals, so you just have to keep going,” Leuenberger said. “They knew if you lose it’s over, so you can’t play with any reservations.”
Kealakehe entered the break with a 1-0 lead, but Konawaena had gained momentum late and kept it rolling into the second half.
In the early going, Chris Higuchi stole the ball from a Kealakehe defender by the corner flag and drove down the goal line. Higuchi’s shot was rejected by a diving Moore, but the rebound ended up on the foot of Replogle. He scrambled in the box like a quarterback under pressure, looking for an open lane to get off a shot. When he finally let one go, it hit the post and landed out of bounds.
Konawaena continued to pressure late, but the sturdy Kealakehe defense — cemented by Moore as a backstop — stymied the Wildcats’ attempt at making it to the BIIF title game in its first year at the Division I level. Konawaena won the Division II title last season.
Leuenberger, ecstatic with his team’s efforts, said the hardest test of the season came at the best possible time.
“It is the perfect game heading into the finals,” Leuenberger said. “Konawaena really tested us and it took our best effort. Now we want to carry that into the championship.”