Now things get real. Preseason games can set up a good outline, but this is when the true story begins to reveal itself. The Kauai Interscholastic Federation regular season opens tonight as Kauai High hosts Kapaa at Vidinha Stadium.
When Kapaa won the KIF title in 2011, the Warriors had to hold their collective breath virtually every week. There was very little that separated them from both the Kauai and Waimea programs. Kapaa managed to outlast their opponents to win their first conference championship in 22 years, but all the games were hotly contested. They scored 105 points and surrendered 91 on their way to a 4-2 KIF mark.
Last year’s title came a bit easier, at least on the scoreboard. Kapaa outscored its opponents 189-22 in six wins.
Riding that wave of success, Kapaa enters tonight winners of its two non-conference games and sits as the top-ranked squad in Division II. But things always have a way of evening out during conference play. The Kauai Red Raiders take the field hungry after a pair of preseason losses. They’re in rebuilding mode, as head coach Derek Borrero has conceded, but in just about all sports at all levels, rivalry games aren’t easily predicted based on records. Teams that know each other as well as they know themselves aren’t concerned about rankings or standings.
We see it all the time and you don’t need to search far back into the archives. In February, Kansas State’s men’s basketball team came into their home game against intrastate rival Kansas with just a 13-15 record, while the Jayhawks were ranked in the top 10 nationally. But with their fans frothing for the matchup, the Wildcats pulled off the 70-63 victory.
The Ravens and Steelers have one of the NFL’s best rivalries. Baltimore went from a 26-6 win early last season, to then surrendering 43 points in a 20-point defeat in meeting two. The Ravens rebounded by winning 30-17 in the playoffs — on the road, no less.
There really are no favorites or underdogs when it comes to rivalries. Based on recent history, there is a tough case to make for Kauai in tonight’s game. But the Warriors know that the target has been placed squarely upon their backs. They’re no longer the Chicago Cubs of the KIF — the lovable underdog with decades of misfortune. Now they’re the top dog and gaining more and more attention on a state level. Coach Philip Rapozo said before the game against then No. 1-ranked Nanakuli that he was happy his team came in ranked No. 2. It allowed them to look up at where they were soon hoping to be.
That is unlikely to be the case for the rest of the year, unless things take a drastic turn at some point. Kapaa has made a compelling case to be the best team in D-II. Now they must continue backing that claim with evidence.
Tonight’s contest will be their Exhibit A, though the Red Raiders will be looking to produce some alternative evidence of their own. Whether or not Kauai has what it takes to come out on top will be determined on the field, but one thing for certain is that Kapaa is going to to have to earn its keep. Neither Kauai, nor Waimea is ready to just hand over another KIF crown to the Warriors simply because they have a “1” next to their name.
David Simon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.