Open Mic
Energy, Wheeler's return keeps Iolani alive

It wasn't pretty, but Iolani coach Kristin Masunaga will take it.

Masunaga's Raiders found a way to get it done last Wednesday as they edged visiting Punahou, 1-0, to claim the Interscholastic League of Honolulu's final state berth into the Queen's Medical Center Division I Girls Soccer Championships, which begins on Monday.

It was a redeeming win for defending D1 state champ Iolani, who dropped games to Kamehameha and Punahou on its home field — including a 2-0 loss to the Buffanblu just six days prior.

The two teams were a scoreless deadlock for majority of the match until Sasha Asselbaye headed in a Taylor Arakaki throw-in in the 70th minute.

The game-winning goal came after Iolani outworked Punahou to keep the ball on the Buffanblu's side of the field for most of the second half.

"I think that's won the game, our effort," Masunaga said. "They knew the conditions, they knew we have to win to go to states.

"It wasn't exactly the kind of soccer we'd like to play, but we had some injuries and had to make some adjustments. Today it was just whatever way we can get it done."

Scoring what turned out to be the only goal of the match also proved to be a confidence booster for the Raiders as it was the team's first goal at Eddie Hamada Field at Kozuki Stadium since Jan. 16.

Iolani sophomores Kelsey Takahashi and Cece Jenkins embrace in celebration as time expired in the Raiders' 1-0 win. Michael Lasquero | SL    Purchase image

"The last time we played Punahou, I feel like we were just missing a piece, and then after they scored, the game kind of went downhill for us," said Asselbaye. "Today we knew we just had to get a goal and just hold it there so we can secure the win."

Speaking of missing a piece, the Raiders also had the services of Sierra Wheeler in their win against Punahou. Wheeler, a sophomore midfielder, was nursing a thigh injury in the Raiders' 2-0 loss to Punahou on Jan. 25.

"Her presence makes a huge (difference) on the field," Masunaga said of Wheeler, who she described as a holding midfielder.

"It was good to have her back today because she works hard for us in the middle and she's a key piece in our possession play," Asselbaye added of Wheeler.

With a trip to states secured, Iolani now turns its attention to taking on Moanalua in the opening round Monday at 3:30 p.m.

It's also worth nothing that the Raiders are on track to use the same path to the state crown as Iolani was the ILH D1 runner-up a season ago and defeated Na Menehune in the first round, 3-0.

Either way, Masunaga said her team is glad to have the opportunity to keep playing.

"We're just happy to be there," Masunaga said on reaching the state tourney. "It didn't really matter first or second (in the ILH), we're just happy to have the opportunity."

Reach Michael Lasquero at [email protected].



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