Dragons hot to trot for another title run


Tony Connors, Sean Quinlan and Seanry Agbayani each finished in the top 10 at the Big Island Interscholastic Federation cross country championships in October to help Honokaa claim its customary team title. They competed at the state tournament six days later, then they hardly took a day off before getting down to the business of preparing for their favorite sport.

That’s one of the reasons why coach Maurice Miranda expects the Dragons to be able to truly hit the ground running once the BIIF soccer season starts. His boys team cross-trains like few others, and they do it with a different mindset.

“They have the ability to make runs and keep making runs,” Miranda said. “These guys, most of them just keep running.”

But Honokaa doesn’t just work on conditioning for endurance, it also works to add muscle. The key, Miranda says, is building strength for the final kick.

“It makes us more explosive,” Agbayani said. “We can keep playing hard and keep the pressure on and recover a lot more.”

Connors wants Honokaa to be able to outlast teams with “pedal-to-the-metal” intensity.

“I’d like us to have 11 scorers on the field,” he said. “We’ll put a lot of pressure on goal and see who finishes.”

In all, five of the top seven runners from the cross country team also are on the soccer team, including Zechariah Ugalde and Sean Perala, who was 12th at BIIFs.

While Honokaa strives to be different in body, Miranda also wants it to be different in mind. The veteran coach likes to see his teams go through a series of stages. After the Dragons have their wind — and he thinks they do in the preseason — the next step for them during the regular season is to fine-tune Honokaa’s quick-paced, connect-the-dots passing system to enhance scoring chances, preferably 20-30 game.

Miranda’s style is the antithesis of just playing the ball long and hoping for a mistake. He wants each of his players empowered to the point where they feel like a quarterback on the field, deciding what to do and where to go with the ball.

“Everyone is a leader, it’s not like football where you have a certain position,” Quinlan said. “In soccer you can do anything you want. You can pass to anybody.”

And if all goes right, Honokaa is clicking on all cylinders in the postseason and just six wins from the ultimate goal. That was the case in 2011 and ‘12 as the Dragons claimed consecutive Hawaii High School Athletic Association Division II titles. The state run ended last year with a loss in the BIIF semifinals, and Connors is the lone returning starter remaining from the title-winning teams.

One of 11 returning seniors, he’ll hold down center midfield along with Agbayani, a senior, and sophomore Kyle Ohta.

“Tony’s the whole package and he covers a lot of the field at an amazing work rate,” Miranda said. “He and Seanry work well together.”

Miranda feels the back line is solid with senior Aukana’i Kapu at sweeper and senior Chance Salva at fullback, but there are holes to fill up top to play alongside Quinlan at forward. The options include a pair of freshmen in Ka‘uiki Feliciano and Travis Cotton as well as Ugalde, a sophomore who could focus on forward or fullback.

“I think senior leadership is going to carry is through,” Miranda said.

Among that group are Elzer Maltezo, who won the starting job at goalkeeper, Perala and midfielder Jevin Dement.

“It’s their time,” Miranda said.