Defense was a question mark early in the season for Mililani, according to coach Steve McGehee.
But that part of the Trojans’ game has continued to improve throughout the season and it pushed the brown- and gold-clad boys into the Division I semifinals of The Queen’s Medical Center/HHSAA Boys Soccer State Championships.
Led by junior center backs Kyle Foss and Joshua Ishizaka, Mililani shut down OIA champion and second-seeded Kapolei for a 1-0 victory on Thursday night at Waipio Peninsula Soccer Stadium.
It helped a bit that Kapolei (12-1-1) was without playmaker Kawika Kelii.
According to Foss, Mililani (12-2-1) was prepared to play a possession game, with a control-the-ball, control-the-clock attitude.
“The last couple of days we’ve been practicing what to do, especially how to take time off the game and how to set up for set plays,” he said. “We’ve played Kapolei before. We knew they were going to be really scrappy and knew that, hey, if we just play our game, they are going to get frustrated and they’re going to draw fouls and they’re going to be physical like they always are. Last time we played them (a 0-0 regular-season tie), we panicked. We looked back and knew the only way we could win is if we stay calm and keep the ball and possess it.”
Foss, who is a transfer from Island School on Kauai, talked about his defensive partnership with Ishizaka.
“He’s a really good defender, Josh,” Foss said. “I like our chemistry. I encourage him, he encourages me. He steps (up), I cover. I step, he covers.
“As soon as we scored that goal (Liam McGehee‘s penalty kick in the 27th minute), we were like, ‘We gotta get it out now. We gotta get it out now.’ And coach reminded us to stay calm and keep the ball and we did.”
Said Ishizaka about his work in the middle with Foss: “We clicked instantly. We really came together and have played as a whole team. We’ve been able to lead it from the back going forward.
“We know (Friday’s semifinal opponent Waiakea) is a very good team. We’ve got to be playing really strong defense in the back and if we do, I think we’ll be successful.”
The Trojans’ big contributors at outside back are Noah Fujikane, Seth Uson and Brandon Flores.
“The defense as a whole has been big all season,” coach McGehee said. “It was a question mark at the beginning, but all season, they’ve become money. Josh and Kyle, our two centers, and Seth and Brandon and Noah on the outside showed up big here and showed up big on Maui (a 2-0 first-round win over Kamehameha-Maui) a couple of days ago.”
The coach’s son Liam scored the game-winning penalty kick.
“It was a great PK,” Ishizaka said. “He showed great composure. He was the right man for it.”
As for the next foe, coach McGehee will study up on the third-seeded BIIF champion Warriors (8-2-1) as much as possible before Friday night’s semifinal matchup.
“They’re here for a reason,” he said. “We can’t take them lightly. We’ll try to do what we can do and move the ball around and cause the problems that we cause.”
The Trojans have six D-I boys soccer state titles in school history — 2001, ’02, ’03, ’04, ’12, and ’15.