Thursday afternoon’s boys soccer match between Saint Louis and Punahou was an early battle for first place in the ILH, as the Buffanblu and Crusaders both entered undefeated with no ties.
The contest proved to be a true measuring stick for the Crusaders, who made the move back to Division I after appearing in last season’s HHSAA Division II finals. Punahou, meanwhile, is the two-time defending state champion in D-I. In the end, Punahou’s experience and composure proved too much for Saint Louis as it came away with a 3-1 road victory.
Despite the disparity between the two teams in previous years, Saint Louis started the year with three consecutive victories, including 3-0 victories over both Kamehameha and ‘Iolani. Unlike years before, the Crusaders have the look of a team that could challenge for the Division I crown. Punahou coach David Trifonovitch and the rest of the Buffanblu certainly took notice beforehand.
“It was a little different and congratulations to Saint Louis for being in that position. Normally when we face Saint Louis, we tell ourselves, ‘let’s not let this be a spoiler game,’ but they’re a legitimate contender this year,” Trifonovitch said. “They’ve got some good players. They’re very physical, they’re fast, they play the game well. So we prepared a little differently than we did in the past.”
The Buffanblu jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first half behind goals from Jason Vandevender in the 16th minute and Liam Nichols-Shipley in the 24th minute, but the Crusaders cut the lead with Daunte Mangiarelli’s score in the 28th minute.
With a 2-1 halftime lead, Punahou extended its lead after an own goal by Saint Louis in the 44th minute, and the Crusaders could not respond to close things out.
“They were loose in warm up but they came up tight. When they got behind, they actually started playing like how they were capable. We’re not a team that can play a lot of different styles, we play the way we play,” Saint Louis coach Rick Sandry said. “Sometimes things get away from us and then we rush, we try too hard sometimes instead of staying with what we do well. The result should’ve been better … We shouldn’t have allowed those three scores.”
Sandry was disappointed, but he thought the two teams were closer than what the score indicated. He also believes there’s more work to be done for the Crusaders heading into the second half of the season.
“We’re getting close. We’re nowhere near the Punahou, ‘Iolani, Mid-Pac levels and such, but we still got a ways to go,” he said. “As far as the game result, I thought it could have been closer. We had a chance to maybe get even or get a win but I know what weaknesses and such we have.”
Punahou, meanwhile, remains the team to beat in the ILH and looks primed for a state three-peat. Like Sandry, Trifonovitch hopes to see improvement even with the team’s successful start.
“We’re fortunate. We won our games, but we’re not playing to the ability and potential that we have,” Trifonovitch said. “I was telling the guys ‘look, we’re winning games, but you have the potential to play so much better.’ It’s my job to hopefully bring out that potential and hopefully throughout the second round we start playing better and see how it goes from there.
“But everyone else is getting way better, too. We just have to keep up with everybody.”