One of the best things about state Division I girls soccer is that one team does not dominate the landscape.
Yes, Punahou has the most titles with 11, but it’s been since 2011 that the Buffanblu have ended their season with a win in the big game.
Each year, it seems to be a different team that gets hot. Last year, it was Pearl City. This year, it was ‘Iolani. Two years ago, it was Mililani.
It’s very hard to repeat championships, just like in pro sports.
Do the Raiders, who defeated Punahou 2-1 on Saturday night for the crown, have what it takes to get it done in 2018?
It’s way too early to tell, of course. But their young talent seems to be in abundance. Two of those highly skilled players, for example, are freshmen — wing Mia Watanabe and defender Kelsey Wong.
On Friday, Watanabe had a breakout game, scoring three spectacular goals in a 3-0 win over Mililani in the semifinals.
And on Saturday, while consummate veteran Kylee Kim-Bustillos was scoring twice, Wong was making plays left, right and middle, stopping Punahou’s dangerous offensive strikers.
Wong had blades of grass on her face during a postgame interview, most likely from the celebratory romp and pileup on the ground by the team after the huge victory. But it may have been from diving to thwart the Buffanblu all match long.
“We came to the game, wanting to win so bad,” Wong said. “On defense, our thought was nothing is going to get behind our line. We were going to do whatever it took. We worked really well the whole season.
“It feels so good, me being a freshman. I had never experienced this feeling. It’s an amazing team and I’m lucky to play with each and every one of them.”
‘Iolani coach Kristin Masunaga said this about Wong: “We watched her when she was in seventh and eighth grade, and she just really stepped up this year. Technically, she reads the game well. She’s skilled. She’s fast. She’s strong. Our defense has been strong all season. In the middle, (senior) Cambrie Motooka has been kind of mentoring her all season, and Cambrie is very talented, too. They, along with our two outside backs (sophomores Taylor Arakaki and Taylor Venenciano) held up for us.”
Fourteen of ‘Iolani’s players (seven freshmen, five sophomores and two juniors) will be back next season and eight seniors will graduate, so it appears Masunaga will have a lot to work with in that effort to be the first team to repeat as state champion since Punahou from 2009 to ’11.
“I don’t think we could have done it without those freshman and those sophomores,” Masunaga said.
Masunaga did not take the victory for granted. Afterwards, she said about the Buffanblu: “Kudos to them. They played hard to the end. We were pretty worried up to the last whistle.”