LIHUE — A 9-3 Kauai Interscholastic Federation regular season record was enough to clinch a place at states again, and the Red Raiders are aiming for another deep run.
Kauai High School’s varsity girls soccer team is unseeded and will play Seabury Hall of the Maui Interscholastic League in the opening round of The Queen’s Medical Center Girls Soccer Championships – Division II state tournament.
“The girls grew a lot from where we were in preseason. We came in not really knowing where we were at. We lost a majority of our preseason games. So, it was hard to tell where we would stand in the KIF,” said Kauai varsity girls soccer head coach Joe Cassler during Monday’s practice at the North Vidinha Soccer Fields.
“We lost the first game to Kapaa, and from there we came back pretty strong. I give the girls a lot of credit for not getting discouraged about our start, and we took care of business when we needed to,” he continued. “It was unfortunate to (lose) two close games against Kapaa and we couldn’t secure the KIF title, but we re-evaluated after that. And we have big goals for the state tournament.”
The Red Raiders and the Seabury Hall Spartans will kick off at 3 p.m. today at the Waipio Peninsula Soccer Complex on Oahu.
“We’ve been a defensive-minded team for a long time. We didn’t give up a ton of goals this year,” Cassler said. “I’d say defensively, we play solid team defense. And this year, we added the dynamic of a prolific goal scorer. Between our defense and being able to target the goal scorer, I think it’s going to pay off big time this year.”
That prolific scorer is sophomore forward Kehela Ventura, who leads Division II with 24 goals this year, according to scoringlive.com. Right behind Ventura is Kapaa junior forward Brianna Binder with 23.
“We’re excited, but we’re nervous still,” Ventura said. “We know we’re going to face good teams this year. We’re just trying to get into our game mode.”
Kauai High was tied for third place at last year’s tournament, playing to a 1-1 draw to last year’s KIF champion Kapaa in the third place game.
Prior to that, the Red Raiders defeated Leilehua of the Oahu Interscholastic Association in the opening round, 1-nil, beat Pac-Five of the Interscholastic League of Honolulu in the quarterfinals, 1-nil, and lost to eventual Division II-winner Hawaii Preparatory Academy of the Big Island Interscholastic Federation in the semifinals, 1-nil.
“I think the experience is going to pay off big time, especially going without the bye on Wednesday,” Cassler said. “We had to simulate going through what that’s going to be like on our bodies. We’ve had tough weight training sessions. We’ve had some tough practices the last couple of weeks to get our bodies used to that. And the experience from our seniors that were here last year, that’s going to pay off huge in the end.”
While the Red Raiders don’t want to get ahead of themselves, they are hoping for another shot at Hawaii Prep — which would be possible should both teams reach the semifinals.
“For the past couple of years, we’ve met up with HPA in the semifinals. And we lost the same way both years. We lost 1-0, and they scored in the last 10 minutes,” said senior defender Railee Layosa. “That’s going to stick with me because it happened the same way every time. We’re going to try to change that and get through it, and get back into the stadium. That’s where everyone wants to play.”
Cassler, too, expressed the same sentiments.
“Not to look ahead too far when the brackets came out. We’re obviously focused on our first round game against Seabury,” he said. “Kind of looking past that, we kind of have unfinished business with HPA. We’d really like to get back into a semifinal against them. We lost to them, 1-0, last year. And we lost to them, 2-1, in the preseason. We’re that close in both those games.”
This year’s KIF title winner Kapaa (11-1-0 KIF) is seeded No. 2 in the tournament and awaits the winner of the opening round match Kalaheo (OIA) and Makua Lani (BIIF) in the quarterfinals. The Warriors first match is set for 3 p.m. Thursday.