Coach Counting On Kailua Defense At State Soccer Tourney

Midseason found Kailua’s boys soccer team making a name for itself on the offensive end with 31 goals during a four-game stretch.

It’s defense, however, that head coach Steve Dignam hopes his team will be known for by the end of this week as it enters the Division II state soccer championships.

“We’re good at scoring,” said Dignam, whose Surf-riders are currently 8-4 overall after winning the OIA DII tournament. “The team that wins (the state title) will be the one that makes the least number of mistakes, defensively.

“We have our moments,” he admitted. “It’s one of the things we’ve been working on. A lot has to do with the mental part. We tend to get mentally lazy and are slow to get where we need to. In the last few games, we’ve played a lot better (on defense). They’ve progressed to where they’ve learned their roles, and we have our rotation down.”

The team has given up just three goals in its last five games and shut out both Waialua (1-0 in the semifinals) and Waipahu (6-0) in the OIA DII tournament.

Dignam noted the play of defenders Ripley Quebral, Noah Vega and Dustin Imanaka as well as freshman goalie Chris Gentry.

“They’ve been very solid in the back, and (Gentry) is playing huge right now. The kid has come so far, especially for not having played goalkeeper (in high school) before.”

Among Kailua’s strengths this year has been the play of midfielders Colin Kubota and Trevor Tam. Dignam expects both to figure big in Kailua’s hopes this week. “They have to control the middle of the field,” he said.

Senior Naia Graham helped fuel the offensive flourish at midseason. The OIA East Co-Player of the Year as a junior, Graham was in Florida in December for a national club tournament and missed Kailua’s first two games. He returned in a big way against Farrington Dec. 27, scoring five goals in a 10-0 win. He had five goals each in wins over McKinley and Kaimuki and has continued to blossom with a state-leading 25 goals, entering this week.

“He’s matured this year and understands his role as our go-to guy,” Dignam said. “The other teams all will know about him, so we can’t rely on him for everything. We’ve been having two or three defenders at practice always surrounding him. He sometimes beats the three players. I marvel at his ball skills.”

Senior forward Chance Kealoha-Sunio also has given Kailua a lift of late. “He was big in the (OIA) championship game — he made a big difference, just with his ball skills. I would put him No. 2 or 3 on the team behind Naia as far as ball skills.”

The championships will run Thursday-Saturday at Waipio Peninsula Soccer

Park’s main stadium. Kailua was seeded third behind KS-Maui and top-seed Mid-Pacific of the ILH.

By Kailua’s quarterfinal game Thursday against either Seabury Hall or Honokaa, the team will have had a 19-day layoff since their last game. “We wanted to line up a scrimmage, but we couldn’t make it happen,” said Dignam. “Everyone is in the same boat (regarding the layoff). The problem with a long layoff is that it becomes harder and harder (to stay focused). Our kids are itching to go.”