Fullback Kelsey Wong will always remember the nerve-racking feeling she had Jan. 29.
That’s when her ‘Iolani Raiders faced elimination even though they weren’t playing a match that day. Across town, at Kamehemameha, if the host Warriors lost to Punahou, it would have spelled doom for the Raiders, taking them out of state-tournament consideration.
Luckily, for ‘Iolani, the Warriors won that game. It left the door open for the Raiders, who eventually muscled all the way through to their second straight D-I championship Saturday night.
“That was one of the most stressful days of my life,” Wong said about that day that would have made Saturday’s celebration impossible. “In school, I could barely focus. I was thinking about that (Punahou vs. Kamehameha) game the whole time. It was such a relief when we heard the result at practice.”
From that point on, ‘Iolani went 5-0 and allowed just one goal in that span, including Saturday’s 1-0 victory over Pearl City for the school’s sixth state championship.
Denying a powerful offensive team like the Chargers is no small task. Ask anyone who has watched the exploits of Pearl City’s Bree Fuller and Daelenn Tokunaga and other potent scorers over the years.
“Our organization and our talking on the field was great,” Wong said about the back line that she is responsible for leading.
Mia Watanabe, who is a sophomore like Wong, made the difference on offense, scoring the team’s last two goals of the season — in the semifinal 1-0 win over Mililani and against Pearl City. But even Watanabe knows how critical the team’s ball control and defense was.
“I think it really shows a one-team mentality and how we really pulled through and how it took every single individual out here,” she said. “If everyone is in it and all on the same page, we can accomplish anything, no matter how old we are, no matter what seniors we lost. It is a team effort. The defenders, they’re awesome. Everyone puts their heart into it out there and we pressure every ball. That’s our game plan and it worked.”
‘Iolani coach Kristin Masunaga thought her troops were extra resilient, having to come back from three losses in the regular season and ILH playoffs — two to Kamehameha and one to Punahou.
“When you’re winning, everything is great,” she said. “When you’re losing and things aren’t going your way with other external things that are happening, it’s not so great. But they came together and supported each other and pulled it off.”
For the second year in a row, ‘Iolani did not win the ILH but hunted down the state title.
The Raiders (15-3-1) have made the state tournament in nine of the past 11 years, with three league titles and three state championships in that time.
Both Wong and Watanabe were major factors in ‘Iolani’s run to the title last year, too. They and some others on the squad have a chance to get three or four at states and know just how tough one state title is to accomplish.
“We’ve set high standards for ourselves,” Wong said. “It’s the greatest feeling ever to win two years in a row and be able to prove to everybody that even though last year’s seniors are gone, we could still do it. Hopefully, we can do it again next year.”