Ready for second go-around at states

WAIMEA — The Menehune boys experienced some ups and downs during the season, but finished strong en route to claiming a second consecutive Kauai Interscholastic Federation title.

“The first half of the season was a bit tough, merging with the underclassmen,” said senior forward Carl Mecham during Tuesday’s practice. “(When I was a freshman), we played with the upperclassmen. I’d say last year’s group didn’t take as long to merge together, and we blended more so it was easier.

“But in the second half of the season, we really pulled it off. We were able to get wins and (get some points),” he continued. “At the end, we pulled it off with clinching the title.”

With another league championship, Waimea High School’s varsity boys soccer team earned berth at The Queen’s Medical Center Boys Soccer Championships — Division II state tournament.

Waimea (8-1-3 KIF) drew the No. 3 seed and will take on Kamehameha Schools – Hawaii of the Big Island Interscholastic Federation in the opening round today. That opening round match is scheduled for 3 p.m. at the Waipio Peninsula Soccer Complex on Oahu.

“You know, it’s kind of hard to really know what when you haven’t really played any of those teams,” said Waimea varsity boys soccer head coach Kapono Chong-Hanssen. “I hear talk about who’s strong from Big Island and from Oahu. From what I hear, it looks like we have pretty good match-ups. We get a rematch with Kamehameha School from Big Island. It’s our opportunity to improve on what we did last year. … It’s hard to really know about the draw, but overall, our path to the championship looks good. It gives us a good chance to win if we show up and play to the best of our abilities.”

The Menehune boys were 2-1-3 midway through the regular season and trailed behind then-standings leader Island School.

After the team’s only loss of the season, a 2-1 result against Kapaa on Jan. 7, Waimea then went 6-0 in the latter half of the season — clinching the KIF with a 1-nil win at Island School on Jan. 25.

“Compared to last year, I think we underwent more growth as a group through the season,” Chong-Hanssen said. “Last year, it just seemed like it started off pretty well, and then before we knew it we clinched KIF. This year, we started off slow. And I was like, ‘Where are we going to go?’ We have a lot of talent. To me, I thought we should win KIF. But part of it was, what do the players want to do? How much can we focus? How much work do we want to put in to get it done?

“Island School was pushing us the whole way record-wise. But then we tied with Kauai High, and then we lost to Kapaa. Both of those teams were getting better. So, they both pushed us too,” he continued. “I think we underwent more growth than in years past. But we had to, otherwise we wouldn’t have won.”

Mecham, who currently is in a three-way tie in third place for most goals scored in Division II with eight according to ScoringLive, said the team had a meeting about halfway through the season, and that meeting was the tipping point.

“We had a nice half hour talk before practice. We had some of the JV coaches come and talk, have their input seeing what they’re see from their perspective. It really opened our eyes to see how we’re actually practicing and performing,” he said. “It’s different from our view than from somebody watching. We could see the flaws and what we need to work on. That really helped us.”

Waimea lost consecutive matches in last year’s D2 tournament, falling to eventual runner-up KS-Hawaii in the opening round, 2-1, and then losing to Roosevelt of the Oahu Interscholastic Association in a consolation match, 1-nil.

“Going into our first time, we didn’t know what it was going to be like,” said senior defender Chris Ishikawa. “We didn’t know how fast-paced it would have been. We didn’t know physically it was going to be, too. We were pretty surprised how physical it was. We were kind of unprepared. But this year, since we know how it feels like, we’re more prepared than last year.”

Ishikawa added for himself, Mecham and senior forward Isaiah Duldulao, this tournament is the culmination of playing varsity soccer for four years at Waimea.

“For me, going to the state tournament, I just want to set the bar high for Waimea,” he said. “If we can set the bar high, that would be great. So once we move on, all the seniors, we can say we did pretty good at the state tournament — that we placed up there, and we tried our best.”

Chong-Hanssen hopes for a better showing this time around, not just for himself and for his team, but also for the people who will be cheering for them.

“For me, because I work as a family physician and I know all these other people in the community, it’s also a big community pride,” he said. “I know Waimea hasn’t had that much success in sports lately. Decades past, we had a lot. So, a lot of these people are just really invested in seeing how these guys do.

“We talk about them being our warriors, our na koa, and making us proud watching what they can do. It’s really the whole community pride thing that really speaks to me, and drives me a lot to push the guys even farther — to understand that it’s not just about their own success.”

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