Hawaiian Electric Game of the Week
Falcons to host Na Menehune in OIA East clash

Call it showdown Saturday.

The top four teams in the Oahu Interscholastic Association's Division I East standings will face off this weekend with just a week and a half remaining in the nine-game regular season.

No. 8 Kaiser (5-1, 15 points) will host Roosevelt (5-1-1, 16 pts.) at 3:30 p.m. Saturday, while down the road on Kalanianaole Highway, Kalani (5-1, 15 pts.) will take on No. 7 Moanalua (5-0-1, 16 pts.) at the top of the hour.

Four days after they handed the Rough Riders their only loss, the Falcons were defeated by the Cougars two Tuesdays ago. Three days later, the Cougars were knocked from the ranks of the unbeatens by Na Menehune.

That leaves Moanalua as the lone remaining undefeated team in the East and one of just two in the OIA (Mililani, 5-0-2).

Na Menehune coach Nikki Dela Pena likes the versatility and depth of her squad this year.

"I think that every practice we kind of make sure we have the right adjustments," Dela Pena said. "We've been shifting a lot of players in some different positions based on where we left off the previous game, what we need to be stronger at, so every week's preparation has completely been a different focus so that we can get the right personnel on the field. Fortunately the adjustments have been helping."

Dela Pena has also been pleased with an improved level of conditioning this season.

"I think this year's team we definitely have a deeper bench, I can use everyone willingly on the field, whereas before there was a very limited bench for us to dig into and I think a lot of it has to do with this year's team, their conditioning has improved over the course of the year, so that's been a big help."

While depth is a strength for Moanalua, it should come as no surprise that Kelci Sumida stands out most times she steps onto the pitch.

Sumida, a senior forward and four-year starter is tied for second in goals scored in the OIA this season with 14.

"Kelci has always been willing to stay on the field and push the girls and wanting to make sure that she does everything she can to push the team to win and she's just been a consistent competitor that you're glad to have on the field," Dela Pena said of the University of Hawaii signee.

Sumida, along with her twin sister Kaylee, a four-year starter in the midfield, have the full attention of Kalani first-year coach Brandon Chun.

"We did scout Moanalua a little bit and I think that just the girls side in general is new to us with learning the different names of players, but clearly Moanalua has been the power of the East in what seems like the past couple years. With the twins, they're definitely as talented as it gets offensively and defensively on both sides of the ball," Chun said.

Na Menehune have won five straight games since a 1-1 tie against Kailua to open the season. They have scored 45 goals on the year and allowed just two.

"The first thing that we thought when we watched their game is they're all ball winners, so they're all very good and very disciplined in understanding their roles and playing with that intensity and winning balls," Chun said.

A nice complement to Kelci Sumida has been sophomore midfielder/forward Taylor Hayes, whose nine goals are the second most on the team.

"She came to us as a freshman last year, but she found herself this year. She's coming out a lot stronger and lot of it is the team leadership and mentoring that Kelci is doing with Taylor at practice and on the field. As a coach I stand back and watch it and all the right things are happening, but we made it clear to the team that everybody knows Kelci and everybody is gonna pay attention to her, so everyone else has to do their part and get some pressure off of her."

In its first four wins, Moanalua won by an average of more than 10 goals per game, but Dela Pena said last Saturday's 2-0 win over Kaiser was a sort of "validation."

"I think it's just more of a validation for the girls that just trusting in the process and keep doing what we're doing and it's good that the payoff in victory comes and it just shows them that we can adjust, we can play people in other positions, we can cause threats and chaos in other areas, but ultimately it's just a validation that these girls can be a well-rounded defensive and attacking team," Dela Pena said.

While Na Menehune are well-established as a perennial power in the East, the Falcons are a little bit of an unknown commodity under Chun, a former standout player for the boys program.

Chun has coached under and alongside Kalani boys coach Michael Ching for the past six seasons before taking over the girls team this season due to unforeseen circumstances.

"It was kind of a shock to us. We didn't really apply for it. We had a mentorship for someone else to take over the program, but it ended up being where we had to scramble because that person couldn't do it at the last minute," said Chun, who along with Chun are overseeing both the boys and girls JV teams in addition to their varsity counterparts this winter.

"We were fortunate to find a JV girls head coach — because we started a JV girls program — but really all the coaches were from internally with what we had with the boys already. Mike and I work with both teams, we're kind of like co-head coaches of both," Chun said.

The Falcons are relatively young with just four seniors on the roster, while they carry seven juniors, eight sophomores and one freshman.

"Coach Mike and I understood that it was a transition from the boys to now managing both teams, but we were excited because we knew they have a lot of young talent coming back," Chun said. "They lost a lot of key players from last year's team, but we had the benefit of coaching them during the summer league and seeing them beforehand, but we were really excited by the prospect of the young that that they had."

Ryan Kaneko, the lone freshman on the team, and sophomore Jordan Okuhara share the team lead with six goals scored apiece; one goal behind them is senior Sheree Tam.

"Some of the girls moved positions from where they were last season. Ryan has been a nice surprise and has stepped up to become more of a focal point of the offense, but definitely I think we're more balanced in the sense that the offense doesn't really go through one player but more of everyone being in the right positions, which in terms of scoring makes us more balanced, which is what we like."

While the Falcons talented group of youngsters has certainly caught the eye of Dela Pena, she doesn't want her team worried about anything but its own preparations.

"I've watched a few of their games and they're a young squad of goal scorers and definitely I know that their leadership comes from the returnees that they have, so they have a strong backbone with a lot of young energy up front and we're definitely mindful of what's there," Dela Pena said. "If we can make sure we play our best soccer and stay focused on all the good things that we're capable of, I think that that's where we need to concentrate on."

Kalani won its first five games in league play before the 1-0 loss at Kaiser last week. Chun is trying to keep things in perspective with his girls leading up to Saturday's showdown against Moanalua.

"We're very aware of the possible rewards or repercussions of this game, but we know that Moanalua and Kaiser were the clear favorites and they're both very talented teams," Chun said. "We've already kind of stressed to the girls on what this game could possibly mean, so we're approaching this like a playoff game, but we're also reinforcing the fact that who would have thought we'd be in this position? So relish the moment that they worked hard enough to put themselves into this position to begin with."

A win Saturday — and the three points that come with it — would go a long way to assuring either team a top-two finish in the East standings and a first-round bye in the OIA Division I tournament.

"We want to get that first round bye so that we can take a look at who we might potentially play and that extra day of not playing, of course, helps these girls' bodies," Dela Pena said.

Kick off between Moanalua and host Kalani is scheduled for 4 p.m. Saturday.

Reach Kalani Takase at [email protected].



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