Kalani Girls Soccer Young, Ready And Growing With JV Team

What the Kalani girls soccer team might lack this year in veterans, it makes up for with soccer IQ, figures third-year head coach Michelle Richardson.

“These girls are bright,” she said. “I think we’ll be a strong possession team. We have the basic skills, and I think we’ll have the ability to surprise people.”

Kalani is only two years removed from an OIA Red championship, but it’s been in the rebuilding mode lately, as the 2010-11 team was dominated by seniors. That led to them depending on almost all ‘first-year’ starters last season. This time, a more seasoned team is intact, bolstered further by the arrival of a handful of newcomers.

“The new players who have come in are big assets,” said Richardson, a former college soccer standout at Saint Mary’s College and a former head coach at Campolindo High School in Orinda, Calif. “Each year is a different challenge.”

One player who has seen both ends of the spectrum is senior Jana Kakugawa, who is expected to be the leader from her center/mid-field position. She’s a four-year player in the program. “She’s definitely an asset we’ll enjoy having back,” Richardson said. “She has some of the best handles in the league. She’s seasoned and very quick with fantastic ball control, and she’s adept at being able to distribute, which is really important. She’s one of the smallest on the team, but she knows how to use her body.”

Veteran leadership also will come from junior mid-fielder Lauren Cook and senior goalie Sara Neumeier. “Lauren has emerged as a strong versatile player through her hard work. She’s worked hard on everything we’ve asked of her. And Sara is a great leader and communicator; she’s a tremendous student-athlete.”

Also in Richardson’s plans are senior midfielder Tonisha Baybayan and sophomore midfielder Kellie Goya. “(Bayan) will be a force to contend with,” she said of Baybayan, who transferred in from Hilo in the off-season. “She has good touch on the ball, and she’s physical. Kellie was Honorable Mention (as an OIA freshman) last year. We’re fortunate to have her coming back.” Meghan Mararagan and Rhianne Suemoto also are back from last year.

“It’s a young corps that takes pride in it,” said Richardson, who is assisted by coach Conor Whittaker. “They’ve trained hard between last season and this year. They’ve matured and come back stronger than I would have expected.”

Kalani is also building for the future and plans a junior varsity program this season, with Amanda Suiso as head coach.

The public unveiling at 3 p.m. Friday against Kaimuki in a preseason game. Kalani also plays Kailua in a pre-season game Nov. 17. OIA opener is Nov. 28 at Castle.