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Aiea Girls Soccer Team Rebounds From Last Season’s Loss

Aiea’s post-season run last winter sets up Na Ali‘i to be on the receiving end of every opponent’s best effort this time around.

“I’ve told the girls they’ll have a target on their back this year,” said head coach Benji Villaflor.

Na Ali‘i were the feel-good story in soccer last February when they beat Kaiser 1-0, fourth-seeded Konawaena 2-0 and Kapolei 2-1 to make the title game of the Division I state tournament.

Aiea had entered the state tournament having earned the sixth and final OIA berth.

It was defeated by Punahou in the finale, but the 2014 post-season served as a great springboard into the current season, according to Villaflor.

“We’ve picked up from last year — it seems like we’re not too far off from where we were (at state tournament time),” he said. “It was a great soccer experience overall, and we hope we can do it again. The girls know what to expect now.”

Unlike last season, when it had to overcome a slow start, Aiea opened the 2014-15 Red slate with 10-0 wins over Radford and Leilehua.

“Getting off to a good start is really important for us,” said Villaflor, who led Aiea to a 13-5 record last year. “But we haven’t played an experienced team yet — like Pearl City, Kapolei or Mililani — so we don’t really know where we stand, but we’re coming along well.”

Aiea’s offensive output in the first two games was huge for another reason, as senior Raisa Strom-Okimoto was lost for the season to an injury suffered in a preseason game with Baldwin.

She was the state’s leading scorer last season with 24 goals in addition to being named OIA West Player of the Year in a vote of league coaches at season’s end.

“I think the girls know they have to pick up the slack for her,” Villaflor said. “Everybody seems to be stepping up.”

Among Na Ali‘i’s key returnees are seniors Leah Pajimula (center-midfielder) and Keani Napuunoa (attacker). Both serve as captains.

“She’s one of our veterans,” Villaflor said of Pajimula, who was a Second Team All-Conference pick last year. “She’s not real vocal, but she’s a leader by example.

“Keani has a great work ethic and a great attitude,” he added, “and she helps keep the girls together.”

Also back in the fold for Aiea are seniors Brittany Maze (defender) and Tamera Mikamura (center-midfielder) as well as junior Sara Olanda (attacker).

“Brittany is one of our high-speed attackers — she’s real good at coming out of the back. She’s really fast and really athletic.

“Tamera tries to control the game for us — she has a big role.”

Olanda, meanwhile, has provided an offensive boost early on this season with five tallies in her first two games. She scored three in Aiea’s season-opener with Radford.

“She has the ability to score,” Villaflor said.

Na Ali‘i were to finish up a three-game home stand with a game Tuesday against Campbell.

The team now will have a week to prepare for a road date Dec. 30 with Waialua.

Following that game, Aiea will have another bye of nine days before a stretch on their schedule that will see them play Kapolei Jan. 9, Pearl City Jan. 13 and Mililani Jan. 16. “If we play our game and stay disciplined, I think we should be OK with any team that we play,” Villaflor said. “It’s about how we come out and perform.”