Mililani girls soccer coach Darren Smith looks calm most of the time. It appears that’s his natural state.
But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a competitive fire burning in his soul. Talk to anybody who watched him play for the Mililani boys team in the early 2000s and they know. He’s a leader and he’s strategic. He’s smiling. But … he’s out to win.
In his first year as the girls’ head coach, Smith’s got the Trojans (11-1) into the OIA championship game. They got past Aiea 1-0 in the semifinals Thursday night at the Kapolei High field, avenging a 1-0 defeat to Na Alii a year ago in the semifinals, when Smith was an assistant. That loss ended a streak of three straight league championships by the Mililani squad.
Smith knows about winning streaks. The state player of the year in 2004, he was the starting goaltender for two state championship years (’03 and ’04) at the tail end of Mililani’s four state titles in a row.
And now, here he is, the head coach on the girls side 16 years later. That calmness appears to come from making sure everything on the defensive side is in its place. He has developed that thinking through years and years of hands-on soccer-playing and coaching experience. Then, with that area taken care of, he knows all you need is one goal and it’s a victory.
That scenario was part of the win over Na Alii. His Trojans went up 1-0 in the first half on Cece Jenkins‘ free kick and then concentrated — not fully, but a lot — on defense after the break.
Listening to him talk, it’s like a college class in defense, which equals a victory when you throw in just one goal on the offensive side.
“We definitely have been trying to cement our culture, our philosophy of the game and the girls have absolutely bought in up until this point,” Smith said after the win. “It’s just been a growth mind-set. The girls have been fantastic. With that, it’s recognizing that they’re interchangeable. There’s no set anything. It’s just what we need to make sure that the primary threats are always contained and that we limit mistakes.”
OK. He doesn’t get into the defensive aspect until the last sentence, but it’s a biggie. Deny chances. Make as few mistakes as possible. Pretty conservative, right? He could have said, “We need our goal scorers to do this and that and the other thing.”
“We recognize that they (Na Alii) are a team that counters very well. The last thing we want is for our backs to be exerting more than they should and putting them in those (dangerous) situations. They (Na Alii) like to set players back into space and find high opportunities, so we made sure to try to contain that as much as possible by closing down space.”
Right. Don’t give them chances. Heck, don’t give them space. Goaltenders like Smith know this stuff. Defenders, most of the time, do, too. It’s simple on paper — forwards with no space are not as dangerous as forwards with space.
Smith also knows beating Moanalua (9-0-2) in Saturday’s final will be no easy task.
“Every team is here to battle,” he said. “We expect very physical, high-quality soccer ahead of us.”
Mililani and Moanalua (as well as the semifinal losers, Aiea and Campbell) are among six OIA teams headed to the states, Feb. 3-8.
Moanalua topped Campbell 2-1 in Thursday’s other semifinal at the Kapolei field. Tichalynn Barroga scored the game-winning goal in the 63rd minute on a penalty kick.
Interestingly, Na Menehune coach Nikki Dela Pena made a last-second change on who would take the kick after a Sabers penalty in the box. Initially, Sierra May Sandobal stepped up to the line. In a matter of seconds, Barroga got the call instead and then put a shot into the top right corner.
“During our last game, we had a PK and so we were aware of our audience at that time,” Dela Pena said. “Campbell had played before us and may have watched Sierra kick. So I needed to pull her and put another shooter in.”
The switch worked. And now Moanalua gets 17-time OIA champion Mililani in Saturday’s final at Kapolei.
“They’ve won so many,” Dela Pena said. “Mililani is a powerhouse any given season. They’re always a great team coming out of the West and representing the state, too. We’re going to have to come up with our best game. Come out with the same kind of intensity and cohesiveness that we’ve been coming together with at the right time of the season and make sure we all know what we’re trying to play for.”
Added Barroga, “We’re all just gonna show up to practice (Friday) and we’re gonna clean everything up. We’re just going to put the pieces together and we’re going to play our hearts out.”
Moanalua has one OIA title under Dela Pena (2012) and three overall. Na Menehune were also champions in 1995 and ’00.
Miliani’s 17 championships were in 1984, ’86, ’87, ’88, ’92, ’93, ’02, ’03, ’04, ’06, ’09, ’10, ’11, ’13, ’16, ’17 and ’18.