Kailua’s Graham focused on playing D-I

Kailua's Naia Graham steers the ball around Waipahu’s Luis Lising during the OIA championship. Bruce Asato / Star-Advertiser
Kailua’s Naia Graham steers the ball around Waipahu’s Luis Lising during the OIA championship. Bruce Asato / Star-Advertiser

Naia Graham is a scoring machine and if you are a doubter, you can see for yourself in the Outrigger Hotels and Resorts Boys Soccer State Championships, Feb. 18-21 at the Waipio Peninsula Soccer Park.

Graham and his Kailua teammates will be going for the Division II title after winning the OIA D-II crown last week.

The buzz around the Castle High field during the Surfriders’ 6-0 victory over Waipahu on Saturday, a game in which Graham scored four goals, was that this kid is a Division I college prospect.

He sure has talent. He has a laser of a shot and he can dribble through and around defenders.

But is Graham, who also plays for the Honolulu Bulls in club soccer, a D-I kind of collegiate athlete?

The real question is: What will it take for Graham to get there? Interestingly, he had some good insight into that. Unlike some athletes who think they can waltz right on to a D-I program, the 6-foot striker knows it will take a lot of work.

So, what types of things does he need to work on?

“Finishing,” was the first thing he said when asked, and, with 25 goals in the regular season and playoffs, that’s probably not his biggest weakness.

But there are others, and he easily rattled them off.

“I need a lot more endurance,” he added. “Decision skills, running and being more effective when I don’t have the ball. That’s what the club coaches are telling me. They say I’m a good player, but if I want to go to Division I, I have to be more of a complete player.”

He also mentioned that he needs work on shooting with his left foot.

Graham plans to play in college and is being recruited by Cal State Fullerton, Notre Dame de Namur and Chico State — all lower level soccer teams. If he goes that route, he could continue to work on making it up with the big boys.

Surfriders coach Steve Dignam believes Graham is a D-I prospect and thinks his game will soar even more if he improves at distributing the ball.

“The way he played (against Waipahu), he was unstoppable,” Dignam said. “In the game before (against Waialua), they stacked the defense against him, and it was successful, but he still got free for one goal.

“He is focused and he’s got that go-go attitude and he has been incredible for us for four years, especially this year. Even if there are three defenders on him, he’s still go-go, but that probably won’t work at the next level.”

Going into the season, Dignam knew he had a really “dynamic” group of players.

“When I first saw what I had, I said to myself, ‘I’ve got a really good team,’ ” he said. “Then I was reminded that we were going to be in Division II and at first I was disappointed because I thought we had a team that could compete in D-I. But then (a friend) told me that the trophies for D-I and D-II are the same size. I’m really happy for our kids that we have the OIA Division II championship and are going for a state championship.”

Freshman goalkeeper Chris Gentry has been among the other key players for the Surfriders (8-4).

“I want to give a shout out to Chris,” Dignam said. “He had never played before and he has been phenomenal,” the coach said.


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