In his seventh year as the head coach at his alma mater, Eddie Klaneski has rebuilt the Damien program from the bottom up.
In the midst of a 25-game losing streak, and coming off an 0-10 season when Klaneski was promoted from defensive coordinator, the Monarchs are now the two-time defending ILH Division II champions.
Monday, for the first time since the end of the 2003 season, Damien found itself in the top 10 of the newspaper’s overall football rankings.
There are other rankings out there that split up teams between Division I and Division II. The newspaper rankings, going back to when there was both the Honolulu Advertiser and Honolulu Star-Bulletin, have always ranked the 10 beat teams regardless of classification.
On Monday, Klaneski was genuinely appreciative of the team’s ranking as one of the 10 best in the state. But he was also worried about the challenge that lies ahead with his team scheduled to play ‘Iolani on Friday on the Raiders’ home field. Damien (5-1, 3-0 ILH D-II) ran through its three opponents in the first round of league play. One of those wins was a 35-21 victory over ‘Iolani, ending Damien’s 16-game losing streak to the Raiders.
Worried his team could get complacent, Klaneski said he planned to change things up a bit at practice this week.
“Probably the hardest thing to do is keep them focused (and) that’s our main concern this week, especially with ‘Iolani (coming up) and it’s their homecoming,” Klaneski said. “We’re going to turn it up a notch this week and get these guys in gear.”
The Monarchs’ last two ILH D-II titles have come with ‘Iolani playing Division I. With the Raiders now back in Division II, it’s a six-games-in-six-weeks grind with the playoff round still ahead after that.
Damien has withstood a challenge from St. Francis each of the last two years to advance to the state tournament. The Monarchs lost in a shootout to Konawaena, 42-33, in the 2015 opening round and were eliminated in the semifinals last year by Kapaa, 21-14 at Vidinha Stadium.
Despite winning 12 of their last 15 games overall, Damien has felt overlooked for much of the season. Klaneski pointed to other rankings out there that have motivated his team from the start.
“Of course, people look at the different rankings and see where they are and honestly, at the beginning of the year, we were kind of mad about the rankings because we weren’t really ranked at all,” Klaneski said. “We felt that was crazy, but it became a motivating factor because, it was like, this is what people think about us? The two-time defending champions, barely in the top 10 in Division II? That’s just crazy.
“We’ve worked really hard and we want to be respected for the hard work we’ve put in,” Klaneski added. “Realistically, it doesn’t matter, but the kids take these things to heart. We want to three-peat as ILH champions and the kids have set out to work hard to achieve that goal every single day.”
The Monarchs have a core group of seniors that have been in the program for six years, beginning at the intermediate level, including defensive back/wide receiver Akila Arecchi, who will be featured in Tuesday’s Honolulu Star-Advertiser, and third-year starting quarterback Marcus Faufata-Pedrina.
That first intermediate season for these seniors was the same year the varsity team ended that losing streak, which lasted nearly three years, with a 31-0 win over Kalaheo.
From that point until now, the Monarchs have gone from the bottom of the barrel to the top of the food chain in Division II. The only thing left is finally breaking through for a state title. Damien has been to the final once, losing to Aiea, 9-7, in 2003.
“Defend Houghtailing (Street) is our mind-set,” said Arecchi, who has scored touchdowns receiving, rushing, on a kickoff return and on a pick-six this season (He’s also thrown a TD pass as well). “We know that things run through us now. We’re the head of the table and we’re trying to run things. It’s like a new era at Damien and we don’t want to give that up.”