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Surfriders Have Eyes On OIA White Soccer Tournament

With the Kailua boys soccer team now in Division II, it won’t play East power Kaiser in the post-season. But a playoff atmosphere is expected for their annual matchup at 7:10 p.m. Wednesday at Kailua.

That much was assured when Kailua beat Kaiser last year. The Cougars recovered from that game by going on a run to win the OIA Red tournament.

While Kaiser is sure to recall the loss and may have revenge in mind, this game is a measuring stick for Kailua, which hopes to challenge defending Mid-Pacific for the DII state title next month. There’s still much work ahead for Kailua to reach that point, however.

“To be OIA (DII) champion, you have to play teams like Kaiser,” said head coach Steve Dignam. “If you want to play for a (DII) state title, you have to play (DI) teams like Kaiser and Moanalua. We’re DII now, but we want to be competitive with the rest.”

Kailua opened with losses to DI’s Kalani 4-0 and Kalaheo 2-1, but were shorthanded for both. Among the missing was last year’s OIA East co-Player of the Year Naia Graham. Now a senior, Graham tallied 13 goals in 2013-14. He flew to Florida to play in a National Club tournament but returned to Kailua with a flourish Dec. 27, scoring five goals in a 10-0 rout of Farrington.

“Naia has been using his skills to make everyone around him better,” Dignam said. “Our passing has been outstanding. Against Farrington, we were finally moving the ball around like we thought we could, and we’ve been getting all kinds of scoring opportunities.

“We have a lot of things to work on, but overall, I’m really pleased.”

Defense is a point of emphasis lately, according to Dignam, who noted some lineup adjustments made prior to the Farrington game. “Everything began to click. The guys in the back have been doing a stand-out job.” He praised the play of Noah Vega, Gavin Kodama, Dustin Imanaka, Ripley Quebral and Nicolas Irons in the back. Trevor Tam also shifted from sweeper to midfield prior to the Farrington game.

Goalies Kahana Albinio (senior) and Chris Gentry (freshman) are playing well. “I’ve been pleased with both. Our goalkeeping coach (Eric Suzuki) has been working with them, and they’re making big strides.”

Kailua has three road games ahead: Kaimuki at 2 p.m. Saturday, Roosevelt Jan. 14 and Castle Jan. 17.