‘Iolani girls soccer coach Kristin Masunaga has to keep a watchful eye on Taylor Arakaki while she practices her throw-ins.
The 5-foot-3 junior has the ability to throw the ball into the box on balls that go out of bounds off an opponent in the opposing quarter of the field.
That single skill turns a simple throw-in into a scoring chance nearly every time Arakaki has her hands on the ball. The only problem is, it’s not quite as easy as it looks.
“We can’t practice it that much because it hurts her back,” Masunaga said. “I was worried today that her back was going to be sore, but we just said ‘suck it up.’ She could rest after the game. Her throw is a lethal weapon.”
It was the play that allowed ‘Iolani (10-3-1) to clinch its ninth consecutive appearance in the state tournament following a 1-0 win over Punahou on Wednesday at Kozuki Stadium.
Arakaki found the top of sophomore Sasha Asselbaye‘s forehead on one of those throws that resulted in the deciding goal in the 70th minute.
The Raiders broke a streak of 250 consecutive minutes without scoring in matches against Kamehameha and Punahou when Asselbaye’s flick-on found the back of the net.
“It was amazing because before the half I told (Asselbaye) to score and she said she’d score off of a header and I guess that was the one,” Arakaki said.
The defending state champions, who have also won three of the last six ILH titles, dropped a 1-0 match to Kamehameha in penalty kicks to lose the first-round title on Jan. 19.
A 2-0 loss to Punahou last week then put ‘Iolani’s season on the brink. The Raiders had to root for Kamehameha to beat Punahou in the second-round title game in order to force a playoff for second place to advance to states.
Kamehameha won that game 2-0 on Monday, and ‘Iolani used the time between games against the Buffanblu to make a bit of an attitude adjustment.
“We told them based on their effort, that’s what would determine who is going to play,” Masunaga said. “We liked the effort the first half — had a couple of opportunities — and told them we have to keep pressing. Whatever it takes to get a goal and they wanted it.”
Punahou controlled the first five minutes of the game in ‘Iolani territory, but the Raiders gave up only three shots in the entire 80 minutes and just one in the second half.
Neither team attempted a corner kick until the second half when ‘Iolani began to show glimpses of putting together scoring opportunities.
The winner came when Arakaki, who had already attempted four or five deep throw-ins in the game, got one just short of the right post that Asselbaye was able to put in with her back toward the goal.
“I flicked it backwards. That was supposed to be the whole play and we got lucky there,” Asselbaye said. “I was thinking we did it. It was such a relief because we had to get the first goal and it would keep our energy up.”
‘Iolani will host Moanalua in the first round of the Queen’s Medical Center/HHSAA Girls Soccer State Championships on Monday at 3:30 p.m.
The ILH has won 13 of the last 15 state titles overall with ‘Iolani beating Punahou in the final last year, 2-1.
“Last year after the championship, I feel like we really wanted to come back and show after losing so many seniors what the core of this team is all about,” Asselbaye said. “Getting to states was our ultimate goal in this game and after those two losses (against Punahou and Kamehameha) I felt like we were down and stuff so to get back up with this win is great.”
For a complete schedule of games in the girls soccer state tournament, click here.