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A numbers game: HPA boys move to D-I, girls aim for 5th straight D-II title

November 22, 2017 - 8:29pm

Numbers sometimes do tell a story.

For the Hawaii Preparatory Academy soccer program, those numbers are 1, 2, 4, and 46. On paper, and without context, the numbers don’t seem like much, but as the new prep season gets under way, they mean everything.

Lets start with the number 1, since that is the usual place to start. That’s Division I to be more precise. This year the Hawaii Prep boys are moving from Division II to Division I, a big decision for the team from the small Waimea school where they will face a whole new challenge in the state tournament, while the BIIF schedule stays primarily the same.

The biggest upside to moving to Division I is the growing rivalry between HPA and Kealakehe. When these two teams have met over the past two years, the games have been exciting — to say the least.

However, before last season the matches had been primarily one-sided. In fact, Kealakehe had dominated the entire BIIF for years, posting a 57-0-4 record in the league over their previous 61 games, which included five BIIF Division I titles.

After forcing a draw the previous year, Hawaii Prep finally broke through at the beginning of last season, trouncing the Waveriders 6-1.

The loss was Kealakehe’s first to a BIIF opponent since January 27, 2012. For Ka Makani, it was a major victory, but the win did not come as a surprise. The team expected to succeed and that showed after the game when the HPA players stayed calm and collected, slowly walking off the field like it was just any other win.

The game though, was not just another victory, it turned the tide in the BIIF. Now, HPA was the team to be feared, a team that did not have a particular standout but used a team approach to get the job done.

While the games between the two teams have produced memorable moments and fireworks over the past two seasons, this year they will mean even more with both teams now playing for the same BIIF title in Division I.

“This is what I wanted and now we have a really big challenge,” said HPA boys head coach Richard Braithwaite. “We are starting from ground zero by moving divisions. We have accomplished nothing.”

Perhaps HPA has not yet accomplished anything in Division I, but in Division II, Hawaii Prep ruled the state, which brings us to our next two numbers — 2 and 4.

The numbers represent a great achievement for the HPA soccer programs. The teams won two state titles last year, one each for the HPA girls and HPA boys. For the HPA boys, the win was the team’s second championship in a row. And for the Hawaii Prep girls, last year’s championship made it four consecutive titles.

The HPA girls are the odds on favorites to repeat in Division II this year after returning all but two players from last year’s squad.

The team is lead by BIIF Player of the Year and Gatorade Hawaii State Girls Soccer Player of the Year, Emi Higgins.

The junior forward and midfielder led Ka Makani to an 11-2-2 record last season, becoming the first player from the school to earn the Gatorade honor. She scored 19 goals, including seven of HPA’s nine tallies in five postseason games. She also added seven assists. She scored two goals in Ka Makani’s semifinal game and the only goal in HPA’s 1-0 victory in the state championship game against Kapaa, earning herself the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player award.

“She had a great year last year and has only gotten bigger and stronger,” said Hawaii Prep girls head coach Steve Perry. “It’s good to have her on our side.”

The boys face a tougher challenge in Division I, in the BIIF and at the state level. Even the dominant Kealakehe teams of the past have struggled to find consistent success at the state level. Also, no BIIF team has won a D-I state title.

The Hawaii Prep boys will head into the new division without a couple of key players from last year’s squad after the graduation of Austin Schneider and Braden Kojima. Schneider was one of the leading goal scorers for Ka Makani last season and Kojima — the 2017 D-II BIIF Player of the Year — was the heart of the midfield who Braithwaite called the “soul of the team.”

The team does have several strong returning starters, including Sihkea Jim and Jake Schneider. Jim scored the winning goal in overtime in last year’s championship game and Jake Schneider is one of the most consistent scorers on the team.

For Braithwaite, this is a team without superstars, just the way he likes it.

“This is a team with a really solid 15 to 17 guys who try to play high quality soccer,” he said.

Which brings us to our final number, 46. It’s hard to believe that the HPA Soccer Classic has been around for so long but the 46th edition of the annual event will kick off this Friday at HPA.

“Forty-six years is a great tradition and it means I have been here for a long time,” Perry joked. “It is great for off-island schools because they can come and camp out on our campus, which makes it affordable.”

The tournament hosts eight boys and eight girls teams from across the state.

The girls field is made up of Maui, HPA, Kealakehe, Mid-Pacific, Hilo, Sacred Hearts, Kamehameha-Hawaii and King Kekaulike. The boys field has teams representing HPA, Punahou, King Kekaulike, St. Louis, Hilo, Damien, Kapolei and Honokaa.

Hawaii Prep claimed the girls tournament championship last year and Punahou defeated the HPA boys for the title. Punahou then went on to claim the Division I state title.

With several top D-I and D-2 schools from around the state, the tourney will be a good testing ground early on in the season. It will also be a chance for the squads to find out what needs to be worked on before the regular season begins.

“Practice is good but we need games to see what we need to work on,” Perry said. “We have a lot of kids back this year but we need to find out what is going to work. Playing three good teams in three days, it will give us a chance to develop chemistry.”

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