HHSAA Boys Soccer
Kaniaupio, Vikings thwart Cougars, will try for first state soccer title


Fri, Mar 4, 2022 @ Radford

Final/PK 1st 2nd OT 2OT PK Tot
Hilo (10-2-0) 1 0 0 0 4 2
Kaiser (14-2-1) 0 1 0 0 2 1
I. Ngonethong (58’)   K. Harman (40’)

ALIAMANU — Tysen Kaniaupio doesn't easily get fazed. 

The Kaiser Cougars found that out Friday night. 

Kaniaupio, a senior goalkeeper, assisted on a goal during regulation and made a pair of game-changing saves during the penalty kick shootout to help No. 9 Hilo edge Kaiser, 2-1 (4-2 PK), in the semifinal round of the NIU Health Urgent Care/HHSAA Division I Boys Soccer Championships. 

A smattering of about 150 fans at Radford's John E. Velasco Stadium saw the Vikings improve to 13-1 and advance to just their second state title game in school history. 

Hilo's only other appearance in the championship game was in 2001, when it lost to Mililani.

"We've never won before, so yes, we're actually going for the (first) state title for the school's history, so I'm excited," eighth-year Hilo coach George Ichimaru said. 

The Vikings, who won the Big Island Interscholastic Federation crown for the first time in Ichimaru's tenure this season, notched their 11th straight win since the lone blemish on their schedule: a 1-0 loss to cross-town rival Waiakea. 

"These boys, their motto is ‘Believe and go all in every game,' " said Ichimaru, a Waiakea alumnus. "So they're there, they made it here and I'm just so proud of them, I don't have no words to say. Since winning BIIFs for the very first time, we just kept going and it's an amazing feeling."

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Kaniaupio trusted his gut feeling when it came to the PK shootout Friday night. 

The teams were tied at 1 after 100 minutes of play, but Kaniaupio's presence between the posts provided quite the boost for the Vikings. After each team made good on its first two PKs — Leha Harman and Michael De Coito for Hilo and Ian Ngonethong and Sean Caires for Kaiser — neither team converted in round 3. Cougars' goalie Luca Tommasino made a save, but Kaniaupio did the same to keep the score tied at 2. 

Kyler Rivera then hit his PK to the top right corner to push the Vikings ahead, 3-2. Kaniaupio then laid out for another diving save on Kaiser's fourth attempt. 

"When I was standing on the line, I was mainly thinking about trusting my gut, trusting what my coaches taught me, to always follow what I believe so when I went through that play and that first save I just had to commit fully to what my gut had told me," Kaniaupio said. 

Ichimaru passed the praise back to Kaniaupio, whose main sport is football. The 6-foot-1, 275-pound senior has been a standout defensive lineman for the Vikings on the gridiron since his freshman season. 

"Tysen is just a pure athlete. Football is his main sport and we're blessed to have him on the field," Ichimaru said. "He just can kick the ball, he can throw the ball — fantastic athlete and great movement — all what he did there was all credit to him, that's all his natural athletic ability. I'm not a goalie coach, we don't have a goalie coach, so that's all on him."

Ichimaru pointed out that Kaniaupio's relaxed disposition is a direct result of his experience and success on the football field. 

"That's his personality, that's the way this whole team takes on their vibe, they're all the same way," he said. "They love their psych, but at the same time they know how to keep composed and very disciplined and all that composure and poise is from football, you know, with all that self-discipline and the physicality of the game."

Kaniaupio's second save in as many Kaiser PKs set-up Koae Pea for the game-winner. Pea put away the clinching PK into the lower right side of the goal to set off the Hilo celebration. 

But it wasn't just with his defense that Kaniaupio impacted the match Friday. Late in the first half, he initiated a Hilo counterattack that led to the game's first goal. 

Just seconds after the Cougars put a shot on goal via a Caires' header off of a Ngonethong direct free kick, but it went directly into the hands of a well-position Kaniaupio, who then looked upfield and booted a booming punt that took a couple of bounces before Harman was able to track it down. Harman beat one defender, then took another touch past the goalie and poked the ball into the right side of the goal with his right foot. 

Ichimaru said Kaniaupio's punt drew memories of former Hilo High standout goalie Eddie Ruhland, who executed a similar play in the 2001 state final against Mililani. 

"Tysen nearly punted the ball like, eighty yards. Two bounces and it's nearly in the other side of the goal and I mean, that's just pure athlete. He can hit a ball and that's real beneficial. The last time I saw a goalie punt a ball that far was 2001, when Eddie Ruhland, a Hilo High graduate, he also had an assist in the state finals as well," Ichimaru recalled. 

Kaniaupio said that he was aware of the time winding down on the first half before he punted the ball in Harman's direction. 

"Well, I usually play cool, calm and collected but in that moment I knew that I had to play with urgency and get the ball upfield because I knew my player was waiting for me and I told him ahead of time to be ready whenever I start going faster and picking up the pace," Kaniaupio said. 

However, the Cougars scored the equalizer about 18 minutes into the second half. After Hilo's backline misplayed a ball in its own territory, Ian Ngonethong gained possession of the ball for Kaiser. He took a couple of touches to get himself free before he pushed in a right-footed goal to the right of Kaniaupio and into the back of the net. 

Kaiser nearly took the lead in the 67th minute, when Leo Davies put a shot on goal from point blank, but Kaniaupio dove to slow down his shot before another Hilo defender cleared the ball just before it went over the end line. 

The Cougars had another golden opportunity in the 75th minute, but again failed to cash in. A Hilo foul gave them a direct free kick from just a few yards outside the 18-yard box, but Ngonethong's shot missed high, hit off of the crossbar of the football goal post and resulted in a goal kick. 

Kaiser finished with six shots on goal to two for Hilo. Kaniaupio made four saves in regulation, while Tommasino had two stops. 

The Cougars rallied from halftime deficits with three second-half goals in each of their first two state tournament matches earlier this week. They posted a 3-1 win over Baldwin in Monday's first round and then came back from down two goals against Mililani Thursday to win the quarterfinal in PKs. 

Hilo is seeded third in the 12-team tournament and had a first-round bye before it beat Aiea in Thursday's quarterfinals, 2-1. 

Kaiser fell to 13-2-1 on the year and will face Kalani for third place, 3 p.m. Saturday at Waipio Peninsula Soccer Complex Field No. 15. 

The Cougars were trying to return to the state final for the first time since 2017, when it lost to Punahou by a score of 2-1. 

The Vikings will meet King Kekaulike, which defeated Kalani in Friday's late semifinal, 1-0 (OT), in the championship game at 7 p.m. Saturday at Velasco Stadium. That match will follow the D2 state final between Seabury Hall and Kamehameha-Hawaii at 5 p.m. 

Reach Kalani Takase at [email protected].

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