Hawaii Prep didn’t walk away from its second consecutive loss in the Hawaii High School Athletic Association title game with any lessons or talking points in hand.
“We just knew we needed to get better,” coach Steve Perry said.
A year older and a year wiser, he says its possible that Ka Makani’s girls soccer team has improved at practically every position on the field.
“We didn’t graduate much,” Perry said. “Most of the girls are back and excited to see what they can accomplish.”
Perry says that HPA doesn’t carry a state-championship-or-bust mentality, but it’d be understandable if it did. Mid-Pacific, the team that’s denied it in the past two finals, lost 12 seniors, while the Ka Makani’s deep pool of returning talent features speed up top, depth in the middle, with ample amounts of dependability and firepower on the backline.
As HPA steamrolled to its fourth consecutive Big Island Interscholastic Federation title last season, it accounted for half of the 12-member all-league team in Division II. Four of those players return: forwards Nanea Tavares and Bri Vallente, midfielder Gabbie Ewing and fullback Kristiana Van Pernis.
Perry said the team would take a more creative and nuanced approach on offense to try and feed strikers Tavares and Vallente. Tavares scored nine goals last season, down from 19 a year earlier, but the goal was to try and get more balanced.
“They’ve become very good at working together as one,” Perry said.
He foresees a team that has as many as seven prime scoring threats, including stopper Teia Knoll, a three-year starter.
The one big whole to fill is at midfield with the graduation of Emily Evans, who scored 12 goals last season and was voted BIIF D-II Player of the Year.
But Ewing, a junior who scored six goals last season, could be the heir apparent. Perry first noticed her competitive fire during her freshman volleyball season.
“She loves to compete once the whistle blows and never shies away,” Perry said. “She’s matured into a leader by example.
“We could play her anywhere on the field.”
The other center midfielder will be Brittani Boora, a boarding student from Washington who moves into a starting role after practicing with the team last season. On the outside, Marlie Mandaguit and Kaui Taylor help form what Perry hails as the deepest midfield of his tenure.
He calls Kaui Taylor his most improved player, though that honor could also go to Emma Taylor, who will provide depth at forward after backing up goalkeeper Morgan Monahan last season.
While Ka Makani, who feature the team motto “WE before one,” are still chasing their state glory, Taylor has already tasted some on the individual side after winning the HHSAA 100-meter hurdle championship as a freshman last May.
“It never hurts to have a state champ in track and field,” Perry said.
Van Pernis, the reigning BIIF cross country champion, and Leila Morrison are at outside fullback while Dani Granger will play sweeper in front of Monahan.
Perry can get a progress report of sorts this weekend at the team’s Ka Makani Classic in Waimea. HPA is slated to play Kapaa, the team that it beat in the HHSAA semifinals last season, and Punahou, the Division I runner-up.
“Our practices have been pretty lively,” Perry said. “We know the only way to get better is to beat up on each other.”