Menehune footballers ready to run

WAIMEA — Since clinching the Kauai Interscholastic Federation championship, the Menehune boys have been preparing to make their run at states.

That time is upon them.

“Today’s our last practice of the season. We’re about to go up on Thursday,” Menehune junior forward Justin Fune said during Tuesday’s practice at the Waimea Athletic Field. “Practices have been good. We have to step it up. Competition is going to be a lot faster — a lot quicker paced than down here. But we’ve been getting better every day since the beginning.”

Waimea High School’s varsity boys soccer team is set to make its first appearance at states in 10 years. The Queen’s Medical Center Boys Soccer Championships – Division II state tournament begins Thursday on Oahu.

“It was challenging this year. We have more talent than we’ve had since I’ve been coaching, but it changed. We had all these grade check issues, so we had different people available at different times. We had to adapt to that,” said head coach Kapono Chong-Hanssen about the past season. “From a coaching perspective, it was challenging. But at the same time, we finally won one. So I’m happy, for sure — especially for the seniors.”

Waimea (9-1-2 KIF), ranked No. 2 in the tournament, will play Kamehameha Schools–Hawaii of the Big Island Interscholastic Federation in the opening round at 3 p.m. Thursday at the Waipio Peninsula Soccer Complex.

Menehune senior defender Devon Hartsell said practices since the regular season ended have been more intense.

“We have a bigger goal to focus on now,” he said. “We still have to keep in mind the games ahead of us, but we could afford to relax a little bit and just focus on the big picture.”

Harsell added he was surprised the team drew the No. 2 seed.

“We did well against other schools at preseason, but I didn’t expect to be that high,” he said. “I didn’t expect to be seeded at all, honestly.”

Chong-Hanssen said the whole team will be available, which bodes well for him as a coach.

“We made it this far. Now we have more options than we had. We can work on different things now,” he said.

Chong-Hanssen added he’s had scrimmages to try to imitate playing a match three days in a row — which will be the case at states.

“For the most part, we had a really good turnout. Our style has changed, even. Just with the different options,” he said. “I think we were playing differently than we did in the KIF. It’s been nice. It’s been nice to see what we can do when we’re at full strength.”

The Menehune coach added he’s received added support in preparing for states.

“Gary Hudson, who had coached Kapaa most recently at the state tournament, he gave me input, too,” Chong-Hanssen said. “That’s one of the cool things about Kauai. We have our rivalries. During the KIF season, we’re going to fight each other. But when the KIF champion is determined, I know we cheer for them. I think most of the other schools cheer for the winner no matter what. Everyone wants Kauai to represent.”

As for the team’s upcoming opponent, Chong-Hanssen said he’s “definitely not taking them for granted.”

“We’ve had a good defense all year. … First thing is keeping that tight,” he said. “On offense, we’re working a lot more with playing the ball on the ground. More of a possession game than what we were able to pull off in KIF. Just more possession than what we were doing before. And then just continue staunch defense and continue pressuring the ball as a team.”

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