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Buffanblu banking on depth this season

For almost any other program losing a senior class of 10 that includes both the reigning All-Hawaii Offensive and Defensive players of the year would be devastating, but not for the Punahou boys soccer team.

Year after the year the Buffanblu are rich in talent on the pitch and this season is no exception.

That depth was put to the test right off the bat when Punahou hosted rival Iolani at Alexander Field Tuesday afternoon to open the Interscholastic League of Honolulu season.

The Raiders took the lead in the 15th minute on a header by Brandon Simon off an Alex Liu corner kick and held the edge in first-half possession over the Buffanblu.

But the second half was a different story.

Punahou took 10 shots on goal after halftime, compared to just one in the first 40 minutes. Still, the visitors' lead held until the closing minutes with the Buffanblu unable to capitalize on numerous scoring chances.

That is, until the 78th minute, when sophomore midfielder Johnnie Dodge made a run down the right side and drew a foul against an Iolani defender inside the 18-yard box. That set-up a penalty kick for junior midfielder Max Moonier, who put his shot into the lower left corner of the goal with ease for the equalizer.

Not long after that — about five minutes or so — Punahou scored the go-ahead goal. Dodge booted a corner kick to about the 5-yard mark near the back post and senior midfielder Taiga Chang headed it in with less than a minute remaining.

"It's funny because in the Kapolei tournament, every goal that we scored and every goal that was scored on us was all set pieces and free kicks, and so yesterday we tried to work on it a little bit, but how did they score today? They scored on a corner kick. How did we score? On a penalty kick and a corner kick, so that's, I guess, going to become very focal," Buffanblu coach David Trifonovitch said following Tuesday's match.

"For us, we gotta make sure that we get good at that, defending it. Hopefully we get some goals through the course of play, not just that stuff."

Trifonovitch said it will take a collective effort to replace the likes of forward Duncan McKenna, who scored 15 goals last year en route to Offensive POY honors, and fullback Peyton Sommer, who anchored the defense and was named Defensive POY last season.

"I'm really lucky, there's a lot of talented players at Punahou, so the next guy just steps in and steps up," Trifonovitch said, who cited senior Chris Espinoza's position change as being critical for this year's squad.

"He's an outstanding defender, (but) he was playing more of a defensive mid last year," Trifonovitch said. "Now he's moved back to that center defensive spot and he's just super solid. I always told him, ‘You're a good midfielder, (but) you're an outstanding defender.' Chris really holds us together."

Espinoza will have to help the Buffanblu back line overcome the loss of senior Kyle King, who suffered a torn ACL before the start of the ILH season.

"He was probably our best defender," Trifonovitch lamented. "He's hoping to play a little bit, but I don't think he's going to be able to. I think he's going to need surgery."

With McKenna in the lineup, Punahou utilized a direct approach to him up top, but Trifonovitch said he foresees a more possession-based offense this season with juniors Moonier and Dane Mizuno, along with Dodge.

"They were sophomore last year so they we were young last year in the midfield, but these guys have more experience now and they're much more controlled, and by adding Johnnie in that mix it just gives us more possessions," Trifonovitch said.

Chang said the team is still figuring out the pieces to the puzzle.

"I think we're still looking for what we can do," Chang said. "We have a lot of people that can play different roles. For a little bit, I was playing outside back, but then I went to mid, so I think we're still figuring out what we're going to do."

Chang and Moonier were two of Punahou's seven goal scorers in Friday's 8-1 rout of PAC-5.

"We don't have an identified goal scorer like a Duncan McKenna yet, so we're going to have to get our goals hopefully from a lot of guys, which I'm hoping is going to be good (because) they can't double-mark a guy. We're looking for more distribution hopefully in the scoring, or somebody's going to step up and we'll see if that happens."

The Buffanblu (2-0) are tied for first in the ILH D1 standings. They visit Mid-Pacific Monday before hosting Kamehameha Friday.

Reach Kalani Takase at [email protected].



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