Kalani Takase | ScoringLive
January 4, 2022, 5:37pm
Solomone Malafu had the kind of game that one can only dream of.
Except this was real life. And this was for the state championship.
Malafu was simply unstoppable in Kapaa's 61-7 rout of Kamehameha-Maui in Thursday's title game of the First Hawaiian Bank/HHSAA Division II State Championships at Farrington's Edward ‘Skippa' Diaz Stadium at Kusunoki Field.
The 6-foot-1, 225-pound junior carried the ball four times for 152 yards and four touchdowns — an average of 38 yards per rush — and ran in six two-point conversions.
And that's just on offense.
Defensively, three of Malafu's five total tackles were in the backfield. He also intercepted a pass in the second quarter and broke-up another.
"Maybe because I think so highly of him and want him to succeed that it's not surprising to me because he works so hard in the offseason, during the season and he does everything — he does all the little things, all the extra things — so I'm super happy for him, but I'm not surprised," Kapaa coach Mike Tresler said of Malafu, who goes by the nickname, Mone.
Tresler is arguably Malafu's biggest fan. Their relationship goes back to when Malafu was a sixth-grader.
"He's just a great athlete and he's got a great attitude; I really can't say more about this kid as far as coach-ability," Tresler said.
He went on, "Mone is a special kid. He's one of those that practices very hard day in, day out. He's a smart kid — he's like a 3.9 GPA guy — and just a really good person all the way around. He's very calm, but he's very explosive, very strong. He's a smart player and so when you see him sometimes he's just unassuming because he's not a flashy guy, but he's just a hard worker and a consistent performer so his actions speak louder than his words, that's how I can best describe Mone."
The rest of the state got to see out of Malafu what Tresler sees every day.
After Kamehameha-Maui punted away on its first possession, the ball was downed at the Kapaa 2-yard line. Backed up against their own goal line, the Warriors turned to Malafu and their ‘Elephant package.'
"Our big package and that involves some defensive guys, too, so he's the guy on that," Tresler explained.
Malafu took the direct snap a few yards deep in the end zone and ran through a big hole up the middle before he navigated the left sideline en route to a state-tournament record 98-yard touchdown. It was Kapaa's first play from scrimmage and would prove to be indicative of the kind of night it would be for Malafu and his teammates.
The Warriors held a 14-0 lead after Malafu's first two-point conversion run with four minutes and 10 seconds left in the first quarter. He sandwiched touchdown runs of 10 and one yard(s) around a 11-yard Kaikea Tandal and ran in all three two-point conversions in a 24-point second quarter to give his team a commanding 38-0 lead at the intermission.
"Again, I'm not surprised, but I'm ecstatic about it. I think our whole team played their best game in the championship game, so that's what we planned for and prepared for and the kids executed; I think they executed the best they ever had all season, so I think all the way around, once we got started, our kids played together, they played for each other and I think that was the result when you add Mone into the mix and his ability, we always knew that was possible," Tresler said.
Malafu closed out the scoring with his 43-yard TD run on a third-and-11 in the final minutes.
In all, Malafu accounted for 36 of Kapaa's 61 points scored.
"I guess when you put it in that perspective — maybe everything hasn't fully hit me yet — but yeah, it's a huge deal and it's a great thing, but for him, we just knew he was capable of it and to see him do it, yeah, that was a delight and we're so happy for him," Tresler said.
But for as stellar of a night that Malafu had, it was a moment in between plays that stood out the most in Tresler's eyes.
"He got called for penalty while he was scoring in the end zone and he was trying to lower his shoulder to protect himself from a tackler — I thought it was a terrible penalty — but before the extra point, he walks up to the ref, gives him the ball, pats him on the back and that's Mone: all class, great kid," Tresler said.
Tresler said Malafu has already drawn interest from Division I colleges and expects that more and more schools will come knocking over the next few months. But Malafu, who also plays on the boys basketball team, is about as level-headed as they come, his coach reiterated.
"A lot of times you struggle in coaching because you have people with naturally-born gifts and they're athletic and big and fast and have size, but they ain't always the hardest workers. This kid is the complete package because he has the work ethic of someone not as athletic that has the drive and determination to get better every day," Tresler said. "He has one of the best work ethics on the tema and he has some God-given gifts — size, height, speed, he's very athletic — and that's why we're not surprised by his abilities and success on the field. I'm just happy for him that he got the opportunity to showcase it and it's because of his work ethic and hard work that separates himself from other athletes."
Kapaa's victory capped a perfect 8-0 season that included a lopsided 51-0 shellacking of Hawaii Prep in a state semifinal the week before, in which Malafu notched five total tackles, two TFLs, intercepted a pass, broke-up another and ran for a 22-yard touchdown on his only carry of the game.
In their fifth title game appearance in the last six seasons, the Warriors — finally — captured the program's first state crown.
"It's a dream come true," said Tresler, who also reached the state final two other times as an assistant at his alma mater, Kauai High.
To be sure, the Warriors' triump — the very first state football championship for the Kauai Interscholastic Federation — is one that is shared by all on the Garden Island.
"It's just been fabulous. It doesn't matter what school they graduated from, everybody is just ecstatic that we won — it's an island thing at that point — so everybody is super happy and feels like a part of it and they're so proud of the boys and the team and coaching staff for doing it and it's a good thing for our island," Tresler said. "Hopefully these boys can get more recognition for it because they deserve it; they worked really hard and they worked through a lot of stuff."
Kapaa finished at No. 10 in the final ScoringLive/Hawaiian Electric Power Rankings released Monday.
Colton Baldwin, Kekaulike — Scored 18 points in a loss to Baldwin
Kana Castro, Lahainaluna — Scored 21 points in a win over Kamehameha-Maui
Aaron Claytor, Iolani — Scored 17 points in a win over Leilehua
Malu Cleveland, Kaimuki — Scored 22 points in a win over Pearl City
Ethan Escobido, Mid-Pacific — Scored 24 points in a win over Punahou II
Rashawn Fritz-Betiru, Kaimuki — Scored 19 points in a win over Pearl City
EJ Kapihe, Kamehameha — Scored 21 points in a win over Kalaheo
Drake Watanabe, Punahou — Scored 23 points in a win over Moanalua
Hudson Yarbrough, Baldwin — Scored 24 points in a win over Kekaulike
Keanu Ebesu, Kapaa — Had 4 1/2 total tackles, including four solo stops and three tackles for losses in a win over Kamehameha-Maui
Bruno Likio, Kapaa — Made three total tackles, including two solo stops, recorded two pass break-ups and recovered a fumble in a win over Kamehameha-Maui
Kainoa Monkres, Kamehameha-Maui — Made eight total tackles, including seven solo stops, in a loss to Kapaa
Kapono Na-O, Kapaa — Threw a touchdown pass and ran for another in a win over Kamehameha-Maui
Kai Fraser, Kailua — Scored four goals in a win over Farrington
Kohl Nakamura, Waipahu — Scored three goals in a win over Waianae
Kelly Takara, Aiea — Scored three goals in a win over Campbell
Iolani Kaniho has no qualms about the singular role that Taylor Eldredge plays for his Lahainaluna girls basketball team.
"She's our number one scorer," Kaniho said of the 5-foot-8 senior shooting guard.
The numbers would certainly back that up. Eldredge is averaging 23 points per game through the Lunas' first four games of the Maui Interscholastic League season.
Scoring is and has been Eldredge's calling card. She was her team's leading scorer as a sophomore two years ago and she poured in a season-high 30 points in a win over Kekaulike on her way to All-Hawaii Third Team honors.
"She's a shooter. She spots up very well, if she catches the ball, nine out of ten times when it's released from her hand I believe it's going to go in," Kaniho described. "She's really good at running the court and she's got long arms so she's a lot longer than she looks and gets a lot more rebounds than you think she would get.
In blowout wins over Baldwin (68-15) and Kamehameha-Maui (73-8) last week, Eldredge led the Lunas in scoring on both nights. She netted 18 points in the home win over the Bears Tuesday and followed that up with a season-high 25 points in Thursday's road victory against the Warriors.
"She did a really good job. She runs the court well so she gets out there and takes a lot of pressure off the guys inside. Because she's a threat from outside, you gotta send (defenders) at her and that opens up the middle for our guys," Kaniho detailed.
He noted the addition of Kekaulike-transfer Ledjan Pahukoa as key to the team dynamic. Pahukoa, who picked up All-Hawaii Second Team honors as a freshman in 2019, has taken over the point guard position for the Lunas.
"She draws a lot of attention because she can handle the ball so well that they leave Taylor open and she's really good at finding the open spot she needs to be in and she can put the ball in the basket," Kaniho said.
Eldredge, one of the team's captains, is one of three seniors, along with Kalea Asulea and Kiera Kaniho, the coach's niece.
"She's a senior so she brings senior leadership. She works really hard in practice. She kind of had a rough summer because she was injured all summer, but she's playing determined right now," Iolani Kaniho said.
Eldredge suffered a stress fracture in one of her feet but played through it over the summer.
"You could tell she was really hindered by it, but she got her conditioning back up and had a good showing for herself in the Iolani Classic, too," Kaniho pointed out.
Eldredge averaged 13.3 points in Lahainaluna's three games in the Iolani Classic, which included a 33-point loss to highly-touted Centennial (Las Vegas).
"We played the number seven team in the country," Kaniho said of the Bulldogs. "So we wanted to see what kind of effort we would put out and I thought we did all right. The size (disparity) was tough, but we got acclimated then played well enough to compete against Kamehameha and Maryknoll."
The Lunas pulled out a 34-26 win over the Warriors, then came up short in a 42-37 loss to the Spartans a day later.
Lahainaluna opened league play with an unfamiliar result: a five-point loss to Maui High. After it, it was only two years ago that the Lunas saw their streak of 164 consecutive MIL wins come to an end.
Eldredge had a team-high 25 points in the loss.
"We had some transfers come in last minute and so we were still trying to build chemistry," Kaniho said. "We were up fifteen in the third quarter then things went sideways and we didn't hold on. Maui High did a good job. We tied the game with twenty seconds left, but they made the shots and we didn't."
Kaniho's squad has reeled off three straight wins since the loss to the Sabers. As the early season has progressed, so has Eldredge's return from injury.
"I'm impressed with the way she's bounced back from the injury over the summer and the work she's put in. I think offensively she's playing at an even higher level than she played at before. Obviously, with what she's done (in the past) scoring-wise, this is what we expect out of her: to score twenty every game," Kaniho said. "That's just, like, her job at this point."
Eldredge has always been an adept shooter from distance, but has extended her range a few feet beyond the arc, Kaniho said.
"She's a very good shooter and she puts in a lot of work overall," he said. "She looks stronger now, she finishes well at the rim, so those things she improved upon from her sophomore year and then she runs the break really well so she gets a lot of layups in transition and then when we're in half court, she's able to find the seams and she knocks down a lot of three's."
For the most part, however, Eldredge takes care of business without much being said.
"She's kind of quiet, not a big ‘rah-rah' player, but her play is what speaks for her and when she does say something people listen because they know that when she does play, good things happen," Kaniho said. "When we're in an off-the-court setting, she's kind of funny with her quiet little jokes. She makes people laugh and she's really close with the other seniors; they all get along well. She's a really nice, down-to-earth kid."
Kaniho, a 1993 Lahainaluna graduate, is in his first season as head coach, but was previously an assistant on Todd Rickard's staff for the 2019-'20 season. Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the two have switched roles for the Lunas, who have won the last 16 straight Maui Interscholastic League titles.
He was hired in late October.
"The first thing I did was hire coach Todd as my assistant so I got all the help I need to whip these guys into shape," Kaniho laughed.
He said of the wins over Baldwin and Kamehameha-Maui: "It was good to get back in the win column. Right now we're just working on building confidence and building with the team, trying to work on the stuff we need to work on to get ready for this week."
Eldredge and the Lunas (3-1) will get a shot at redemption this weekend, when they play host to Maui High (3-0) Saturday. Tip-off at Jimmie H. Greig Gymnasium is scheduled for 5:30 p.m.
Kalena Akinaka, Kekaulike — Scored 21 points in a win over Baldwin
Denise Alfonso, Kauai — Scored 21 points in a win over Waimea
Makiah Ahana, Kapolei — Scored 16 points in a win over Nanakuli
Brittlay Carillo, Seabury Hall — Scored 20 points in a win over Lanai
Mahealani Choy Foo, Mililani — Scored 15 points in a win over Waianae
Jovi Funakoshi, Mililani — Scored 16 points in a win over Leilehua
Jahlyxcs Liana — Nanakuli — Scored 14 points in a loss to Kapolei and scored 18 points in a loss to Radford
Olivia Malafu, Kapaa — Scored 17 points in a loss to Kauai
Ledjan Pahukoa, Lahainaluna — Scored 14 points in a win over Baldwin
Kayla Thornton, Maui — Scored 21 points in a win over Kamehameha-Maui
Pio Tuivai, Seabury Hall — Scored 16 points in a win over Lanai
Ayshah Vea, Baldwin — Scored 14 points in a loss Kekaulike
Jirah Villanueva, Radford — Scored 25 points in a win over Waianae and scored 18 points in a win over Nanankuli
Rayah Arcalas, Waipahu — Scored three goals in a win over Waianae
Faith Hines, Kapolei — Scored three goals in a win over Nanakuli
Julia Oka, Pearl City — Scored four goals in a win over Radford
Serenity Sellers-Garrett, Waipahu — Scored three goals in a win over Waianae