Waipahu Girls Soccer Enters Division I

One of the by-products of the Waipahu girls team’s ascension to the high-rent district of Island soccer has been its upgrading to a first-rate preseason schedule.

In the first month of the 2012 season, Waipahu will play both Kamehameha (last weekend) and Saint Francis (on Wednesday at home) of the ILH as well as OIA East powers Kalaheo (Nov. 12), Kaiser (Nov. 16) and Kalani (Nov. 20), among others. “We’re going to play a bunch of tough teams (in preseason), and that should help us get ready for our (OIA) season,” head coach Elaina Paredes said.

The timing may just be right for Waipahu’s promotion from Division II to Division I. Under Paredes, the Marauders have been to the DII state tournament each of the last two seasons and captured the program’s first-ever OIA (DII) title last February.

The team’s OIA opener is Nov. 27 at home versus Waianae. By that time, what is already a veteran team should be well-seasoned from its preseason slate.

“We will be competitive,” Paredes said. “It will be really difficult (in the West), but our girls always play up to the level of our opponents, so we’re looking forward to playing against the better competition. Our level of play also will improve from playing the better teams.”

All but two starters return from last year’s team, which finished 9-6 overall. Among the departed was four-year standout goalkeeper Kimi Kaniaupio. Even so, Paredes is buoyed by the return of senior leaders Jahna Tacson, Alyssa Almogela and Jodi Shibata. Tacson and Almogela were among the OIA White’s most capable as juniors last year and are poised to have great senior seasons, according to their coach.

“Alyssa looks as strong as ever,” Paredes said of Almogela, who scored a hat trick in Waipahu’s OIA title game win over Kalaheo last February. “She’s been coming in to do extra work in the weight room. She wants to play soccer beyond high school.

“Jahna has really developed her game since I started coaching her when she was a sophomore,” she added. “She used to be just a phenomenal dribbler, but now she has better vision, and she’s always been someone who hustles all over the field. She’s involved in a lot of our scoring opportunities.”

Paredes envisions Shibata as “our defensive captain. This year, she’s taken on more of a leadership role. She knows she has to pull her weight even more without Kimi, so she’s been taking charge.”

Waipahu was especially solid, defensively, last season having posted three shutouts, while giving up only a single goal on each of three other occasions.

“We have to find a new goalkeeper and another (starting) defender, but the girls look good,” said Paredes. “We just have to work on our fitness level now.”