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Man with the plan: DII POY Kojima made things happen for Hawaii Prep

Updated: 
May 15, 2017 - 12:05am

Some years ago, Braden Kojima made a fateful decision.

Picking between two sports he loved — basketball and soccer — Kojima committed to a life on the pitch rather than the hardcourt.

“You don’t see a lot of 5-foot-6 guys signing on to play basketball at the next level,” Kojima said with a laugh. “I think I made the right choice.”

Kojima — a Hawaii Preparatory Academy senior who will play his college soccer at Pacific University in Oregon next year — received further evidence of his correct decision, being named the BIIF Division II Player of the Year, as voted by West Hawaii Today, the Hawaii Tribune-Herald and the league’s coaches.

“I didn’t think I deserved it. There were so many good players in our league,” said Kojima, a three-time first team selection. “I have got to give credit to our team. As a whole, these are the hardest working players I have been around.”

Kojima was being modest, but Hawaii Prep head coach Rich Braithwaite — who has seen the midfielder evolve his game, eventually becoming the centerpiece of two state championship squads — didn’t have any shortage of compliments.

“The thing that impresses me most about Braden is his awareness. A lot of the time he was a full step ahead of his competition,” Braithwaite said. “He’s not a flashy player. He won’t beat three guys on a dribble and then score. But he’s going to keep the flow going and then thread a 40-yard pass to spring someone.”

Kojima didn’t need the spotlight. Instead, he prided himself on generating opportunities for his teammates, like the dynamic brother duo of Austin and Jake Schneider, both first team selections at forward.

“I learned to be more of a leader on the field, encouraging the ball to certain places, keeping the positive flow going, rather than just yelling,” Kojima said. “I’m the player who passes the ball right before the assist happens.”

When Kojima was finding the back of the net, it was primarily on set pieces. A large part of his success on those plays came down to one factor — practice.

“In the offseason, we would get together to play and practice those a lot — over and over,” Kojima said. “When it came time for it in the game, it was pretty much second nature.”

That kind of year-round commitment to the sport is what Braithwaite credited for his squad’s historic level of success. It has become commonplace for him to find groups of players practicing on their own, and the Hawaii Prep English teacher also catches his guys watching professional soccer games from just about every continent.

“They are soccer nerds —and I say that in the best way,” Braithwaite said.

The love for soccer has been both infectious and effective. Hawaii Prep ran through the BIIF unbeaten last season, and has snagged back-t0-back state banners, leaving the groundwork for years to come. The program plans to move up to Division I next season, a mighty move for the small school from Waimea.

“It was one of those seasons where everything went right,” said Braithwaite, who was named the Coach of the Year in the BIIF. “You usually have a period of the season when you have a gut check, but we got lucky. We didn’t have a lot of injures or controversy.”

“My time at HPA has been an amazing experience. We just kept building and building,” Kojima added. “It was all for the love of the game.”

Along with Kojima and the Schneiders, Kama Morrison, Sihkea Jim and Noah Wise were selected to the first team from HPA. BIIF runner-up Kamehameha-Hawaii landed three players — Jameson Sato, Justin Kenoi and Tyler Waltjen — on the squad. Makua Lani forward DJ Madigan earned a spot at forward, while Honokaa’s Kauiki Feliciano rounded out the starting 11 as a midfielder.

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