Dignam Keeps Kailua Soccer Team On Its Toes In East Race

Even with four games ahead, you could already call the Kailua boys soccer season a success.

Head coach Steve Dignam is looking to maintain a sense of urgency among his players, however, even though Kailua has nearly locked up the East’s top seed for the upcoming OIA Division II tournament.

“I want a few more wins still,” said Dignam, whose team was 3-3 overall, entering last week’s game against Roosevelt. “Once we found out we were going to be in DII, the plan was to use the regular season as preparation for the playoffs. We want to play the DI teams as tough as we can.”

Having already swept fellow DII teams Kaimuki, McKinley and Farrington, the Surfriders are in line to assume the top seed from the East for the OIA White tournament. At press time, all four of their remaining games were to be against DI teams, including Roosevelt last Wednesday, Castle last Saturday, Kahuku Wednesday and Moanalua Saturday.

From there, Kailua will face another challenge in the form of a long wait between games. Following the season finale against Moanalua, the Surfriders will have a 12-day layoff before their OIA DII tournament semifinal Feb. 5 (opponent to be determined). The good news is Kailua hosts the semifinal.

The top two OIA White teams earn berths in next month’s DII state soccer championships.

“We’re pretty set with our lineup and rotation,” Dignam said. “It’s more about our mental (approach) and staying focused for 80 minutes against the good teams. We’ll have the layoff, and the team we’ll play (in the semis) will have the advantage of having played a (first-round) game.”

Dignam was excited that his team has four more chances to compete against a DI team before the DII playoffs. “We have four tests coming up, and Roosevelt is the first. What we’ve stressed this week is playing better against the better teams. We have to focus more on our defense. Hopefully, that’s sinking in.”

Kailua opened its season with back-to-back losses against DI’s Kalani 4-0 and Kalaheo 2-1, but was shorthanded for both because of varied issues.

Among those missing the first two games was last year’s OIA East Co-Player of the Year Naia Graham, who had 13 goals in 2013-14. He flew to Florida to play in a National Club Tournament but has had a huge impact for Kailua since returning to the lineup against Farrington Dec. 27, scoring five goals in a 10-0 win. He promptly followed up with five goals against both McKinley (an 8-1 win) and Kaimuki (11-0 win), as well as tallying one in a 3-2 loss to DI Kaiser, giving him a state-leading 16 goals in just four games.

“I joke with my assistants about releasing the beast,” Dignam said of Graham. “I told him if he got to five goals, he would be coming out of the game because we wanted to get our reserves in as much as possible.”

A solid supporting cast also has paid big dividends, led by veterans Colin Kubota (five goals), Gavin Kodama, Noah Vega, Dustin Imanaka, Ripley Quebral, Nicolas Irons and Trevor Tam.

Senior Kahana Albinio and freshman Chris Gentry have handled goalkeeping duties.