At Mililani’s lowest point of the season, coach Ray Akiona referred the media to junior fullback Kasey Isobe.
Little did Akiona know that Isobe would be the one who delivered his team to its zenith by scoring the winning goal in Saturday’s 1-0 double-overtime state championship victory over previously undefeated ‘Iolani at the Waipio Peninsula Soccer Stadium.
The Trojans’ amazing run to the state title might not have been possible had it not been for a loss in a huge game previously. It turned out to be the team’s only defeat, 2-1 to Campbell, and it cost them the coveted OIA championship.
But that deep disappointment worked in Mililani’s favor.
After that devastating loss, in which the tears were shed freely, Akiona was asked a pointed question: “Who is the most disappointed girl right now on this team?”
He didn’t hesitate and said, without a doubt, that there was no need to look further than Isobe.
So does that mean that among a squad of 20-plus girls, Isobe was crying the most?
It more likely meant that she cares about the final outcome the most; the type of person who is so committed to the goal of being the best team that it rubs off on others. It has nothing to do with individual talent (though Isobe has plenty of that, playing tough defense and making the correct decisions with outlet passes all tournament long). No, this has to do with a certain belief that settling for something less than being the best is unacceptable.
As she said after the match, “We came into this game with the mind-set that we were not going to be disappointed (when it was done).”
So, let’s go back and recall her words after the loss to Campbell: “We’ve worked too hard for us to get stopped this early.”
Kind of telling, don’t you think? Stopped this early? Yes. But stopped again? No.
Akiona said he was going to take Isobe out near the end of the state title match, but she pleaded to stay in. He knew she had bruised ribs. She didn’t want her stake in all of this to ride on the bench.
Come out of the game? Good one coach. But no way! Not now. Not with a state championship on the line.
The announced crowd was 2,901. Lots more were watching on TV, and even more will watch the OC 16 replay.
This was a memorable soccer match. Sure, there have been great matches in the past. But the skill level increases every year and, go ahead, name two teams that met in the final that have more overall skill than these two. There might be some, and if so, that doesn’t really matter.
What matters, really, is that these two teams went at it in an evenly matched contest for close to 100 minutes. Penalty kicks were close at hand. As a matter of fact, Raiders coach Kristin Masunaga missed the goal scored against her team because she was warming up backup goalkeeper Katie Yuu for the PKs that appeared to everyone in the stands as imminent.
This reporter’s notebook is filled with close plays, great saves by goalkeepers Andrea Kenagy of Mililani and Courtney Overland of ‘Iolani, gigantic defensive plays by the Trojans’ Malia Napoleon and Taylee Miyamura and the Raiders’ Kari Adams and Robyn Amano, close calls with shots on goal by lots of players, huge surges into the offensive zone by ‘Iolani’s Kristen Hori and Mililani’s Tia Furuta, long strings of pass plays by both teams.
And more notes. Like this one, for example, less than a minute after Isobe’s goal ended it: “Palpable emotion, smiles on one side, tears on the other.”
The water works were flowing on the ‘Iolani side. Hori, who was a threat every time she touched the ball and dribbled quickly, usually down the left side, was inconsolable for at least 15 minutes. No matter what kind of group hug she got, her head remained buried on multiple teammates’ shoulders. And, no lie, she was heaving sobs for at least 10 of those minutes.
That’s how important this game was to her. Just one night earlier, Hori was cheery after scoring twice in a 2-1 win over Campbell (Mililani’s nemesis last month). She was so at ease and raring to go for the title that it’s inconceivable that she could be so broken now.
And how about these dueling notes from the clipboard:
>> From the first overtime: “ ‘Iolani, the edge? Mililani tiring?
>> From the second overtime: “Mililani, the edge. ‘Iolani tiring.”
And it was true. The Raiders threatened a lot more in the first overtime, and the Trojans turned it around in the second.
Karley Devens is someone who may have a future in nursing. The ‘Iolani senior forward was one giving the hugs, doing the consoling and trying to make things better for her teammates. She did it with a knowing smile, translating to: “This is not the end.”
Rachel Bowler, a defensive standout all tournament whose forays into the Mililani zone made the Trojans nervous all night long, was gracious in defeat.
Bowler was proud her team made it so far and was feeling sad along with her teammates, but she had enough class to say, “Good for the Trojans.”
And Akiona went even further. He was happy for his girls, no doubt, but he went as far as to say, and he was being serious, “There were two winners in this game. I look at both teams as winners.”
The state certainly got the best two teams in the final. And it got the best from those two teams.
Imagine it, if you weren’t there. Every girl was going all out, trying to make offensive thrusts and putting their bodies in the way of danger on defense. There’s 10 minutes left in regulation. Oh yeah, somebody actually has to win this thing.
That is suspense. Anticipation.
In two overtimes, it was the same thing. That ball is going to go in the net one of these moments. If not, it’s PKs.
And then Isobe had the intent, from 45 yards out, to send the ball flying toward the goal.
“I knew one of my teammates would get it,” she said after the match about her thoughts at the time.
They didn’t get to it. But neither did Overland — a big-time goalkeeper all season and in the states for the Raiders. Overland came out in an effort to catch the ball on the bounce and somehow it bounded higher than it looked like it was going to, went over her head and rolled across the goal line.
Somebody had to win. Or, as the magnanimous Akiona said, both teams won. Take your pick. It doesn’t matter that much. Soccer at a high level is being played by Hawaii high schools and you in the community should check it out. That’s a win-win.