Focus Is Key For Mustang Soccer In OIA Tournament

The one-game-at-a-time mind-set that makes or breaks a team in the post-season has been ingrained in the Kalaheo boys’ soccer team’s itinerary since Day One.

As the Mustangs enter the Oahu Interscholastic Association White Conference Tournament this week, they hope to maintain the focus that allowed them to go 8-1-1 en route to earning the top seed in the White Conference Tournament.

“The next game is all that we have,” Kalaheo head coach John Nakagawa said. “As soon as a game ends, our thoughts are this is what we have next. Because we have a mature group, it goes hand-in-hand with our philosophy. You are going to have your ups and downs physically during a long season, but they’ve kept focused. As far as being over-confident, we haven’t seen that and we hope it is because of our ‘next-game’ approach.”

Kalaheo completed an impressive regular season last Wednesday with a hard-fought 1-0 win over Division I Castle. The Mustangs’ only loss came to undefeated Kalani (4-0 Dec. 29), which will be among the favorites to win the Division I OIA Tournament. The Falcons were the State Tournament runner-up last season.

For their part, the Mustangs look poised for a solid post-season run of their own. Kalaheo is the only team among the OIA’s eight Division II teams to have posted a winning record. The Mustangs went 5-1-1 versus DI competition in the regular season.

Even so, Kalaheo finds itself in a must-win situation this Wednesday when it plays its OIA semifinal, since a State Tournament berth also is on the line. (Nakagawa was still awaiting the pairings for the OIA Tournament at press time.)

Nakagawa was less concerned with whom Kalaheo will play than with the level of play of his own team.

“Even if you know the other team, it still comes down to execution,” he said. “Our philosophy is to just be the best team we can be and play to our strengths.”

Defense has been among Kalaheo’s strengths to date. The loss to Kalani aside, the Mustangs gave up one goal or less in all but one game, that being a 3-2 win over Division I Kailua. Nakagawa has called “balance” Kalaheo’s greatest asset.

“We’ve played great defense, and we have a great attack, and we’ve been good in transition,” he said. “We’ve had other years when maybe one area was better than the other, but the total package has been pretty good.”

Just as Kalaheo hopes to make a run in the White Conference Tournament, Castle, Kailua and Kahuku hope to be in the mix in the Red Tournament. Kahuku went 6-3 during the regular season to finish third in the East behind Kalani and Moanalua, while Kailua (4-5-1) and Castle (3-6-1) finished fifth and sixth, respectively, in the division. Pairings for the Red Tournament, which runs Tuesday through Friday, were to be revealed after press time.