They weren’t supposed to go that far. They weren’t sure they’d even be noticed.
But after a tie and a loss on the first day of the AYSO 2002 National Games on Oahu, the West Kaua’i Region 940 Under 16 Boys team regrouped and made a storied run at a tournament title.
Finishing second in a premiere national tournament, West Kaua’i proved to the country that the quality of soccer on Kaua’i cannot be ignored.
Their story of “grit and no quit” is one for the AYSO storybooks:
On the first day of the tournament, the 16-under team got off to a slow start, beginning with a 1-1 tie in the first game to Rancho Cucamumga from California. The West Kaua’i team had a definite advantage over this team, but could not find the net on many occasions.
The second game wasn’t much different. West Kaua’i had a noticeable advantage on the soccer field but could not capitalize against Palo Alto, Calif., and fell 1-0.
It was a disappointing first day for the Kauaian team, and with two losses under their belt, they knew they needed to win the rest of their games with shut-out victories to advance from their pool.
The boys went to work on day two. Getting to the field a little early on Friday to work on finishing, the 16-under team got off to a good start.
They played a tough team from Oxnard, Calif., and with constant pressure from its offense, West Kaua’i came away with a 1-0 win.
Later that day they topped Tarrytown, New York 2-0, capitalizing on the momentum gained from their first game. They outplayed the New York team convincingly.
Day two improved their tourney record to 2-2.
On day three, West Kaua’i found themselves in a match versus Kaneohe, an old nemesis from local tournaments. Kaneohe was, at this point, the leader in its pool. They were in third place, behind Palo Alto, and because of the way the point system works, West Kaua’i needed a minimum of 3 goals and they needed to shutout Kaneohe.
And that’s just what they got, but not without a bit of a scare.
West Kaua’i was ahead 3-0 with two minutes left on the clock. But before they could feel comfortable about advancing, a penalty put Kaneohe in position to steal West Kaua’i’s dreams.
Goalie Steven Fontana wouldn’t have it. In a heartfelt moment of grit, Fontana stopped the shot on goal and prevented a rebound by covering the ball. The game ended in a nail-biter. West Kaua’i advanced as the low seed in the quarterfinals, held later that afternoon.
In a quarterfinal game, the boys met Salt Lake City and got off to an early 2-0 lead. Salt Lake City, a team which towered the Kaua’i boys in terms of size, came back with 2 goals to tie it before half time, but exceptional play in the second half awarded West Kaua’i 2 more goals.
They won the match with the final score: 4-2.
Despite the size of the Utah team, forwards Cody Kimura, Ryan Cram, Blaine Baxter, Koji Nakaya, and Jon Peter Sit were able to find the net, and it was enough to advance the West Kaua’i team to the semi finals on the tournaments last day.
San Bernadino, Calif., the only undeafeated boys team remaining in the tournament, was West Kaua’i’s semifinal matchup.
San Bernadino got off to a quick start with an early goal before half time. But in the second half, the Kauaian defense held the California powerhouse scoreless and its mid fielders and forwards got to work.
Late in the game, West Kaua’i got the 2 goals it needed, held off a late push from San Bernadino, and went on to win 2-1.
Energy drained, emotions wearied, and with just under three hours to the rest for the championship game, West Kaua’i knew it had a tough road ahead.
California’s Santee was a polished team. They were big and fast, and it didn’t take them long to draw first blood in the title bout. At half time, it was Santee 1, West Kaua’i 0.
In the second half, West Kaua’i came back to tie the game at 1-1 but Santee was able to score one more goal, and went back to the mainland with a 2-1 win and the age-group title.
The Kauai boys never gave up once in the tournament and did Kauai proud. They showed the rest of the country how high the level of soccer is on Kaua’i.
“Everyone played such a big roll in all the games,” said head coach Mark Kennett. “They really deserved their success. Here are the names and the positions of the boys who made it all happen – Defense: Kollin Morikawa, Todd Yamamoto, Joseph Mecham, Houston Aki, Bryce Ageno; Midfielders: Mark Kennett, J-Paul Hornstein, Ryan Denniston, Ace the Cannon Reuarin, Blaine Baxter; Forwards: Cody Kimura, Koji Nakaya, Jon Peter SIT, Ryan Cram; Goalie: Steven Fontana and one player in particular who played just about every position on the field: Waika Oliver.
The coaches were Mark Kennett, Sr and Peter Sit.