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Prep Football Preview Special
Kalani Takase | ScoringLiveJanuary 22, 2023, 1:07am
Sat, Jan 21, 2023 @ Kaiser
HAWAII KAI — The Kailua girls soccer team rode a roller coaster of emotions Saturday night.
Katie Finkler scored the game-winning goal in the final minute of the first overtime period to lift the Surfriders to their fourth league championship and first since 2018 with their 2-1 win over Nanakuli at Kaiser Stadium.
The title game of the Oahu Interscholastic Association Division II tournament saw some late-game theatrics courtesy of both teams.
After Kailua jumped out to an early lead on a Makayla Lopez goal in the sixth minute of play, it hung onto the one-goal cushion for more than 70 minutes. However, Nanakuli equalized in stunning fashion, when Glorina Respicio evened the score at 1-apiece with her last-gasp goal that found the back of the net with only two seconds left in regulation.
The Surfriders had an answer in the 90th minute, when Finkler booted a right-footed shot on goal from about 35 yards out that snuck into the left side of the netting. Finkler's footing gave out from under her just as she unleashed the game-winning goal and she slipped to the artificial-grass playing surface while her teammates began their championship celebration.
"I can't really remember exactly what happened before it, but I know I was around the 30 and I saw the opportunity so I figured I would just take it," Finkler said.
"I know I slipped after and then I couldn't really tell at first if it was going in or not — I thought it was going over — and then I saw it go in and just my teammates running at me," added the junior midfielder/forward.
Kailua coach Malu Afong was nearly at a loss for words after the thrilling finish.
"What a game," she said.
"It's hard to put into words, but we just knew that we needed to keep the girls fired up and not let down, not get nervous — they were very nervous — but we just told them, ‘Just stick to the game plan, play hard, go out there and finish the job,' " Afong added.
Nanakuli's equalizer in the closing seconds of regulation could have derailed the Surfriders in extra time, but Afong said she and her coaching staff were keen to keep that from happening.
"We don't let them stew in their disappointment and their mistakes. We say, ‘this is what happened, what did you do wrong or what was the mistake? OK, this is what it was. OK, let's fix it. Fix it and don't let it happen again,' " Afong said.
Finkler said that several Surfriders felt the goal should not have counted, as they thought it was in the grasp of goalie Taufuaalemalo Letalu.
"After that we were all definitely disappointed … but I think once we went to the (break between regulation and overtime) and our coaches were talking to us, I definitely felt like we all needed to get out on the field and really just win this game right away and put an end to it," Finkler said.
For Afong, it was a matter of her team maintaining a sense of cohesion despite the late-game adversity.
"To be honest, it's tough with these guys, but I think it's all about the team chemistry. As long as they stick together and pick each other up, then they can overcome all these obstacles, so I think that's the biggest thing that we need to go into states with, just to continue that," Afong said.
Lopez's goal, from about 25 yards out, was a fairly spectacular one in its own right. The senior midfielder/forward was spinning away from the goal as she one-timed her strike on the ball into the top left corner of the goal.
"It was definitely a beautiful goal," Finkler recalled. "She's definitely really good at those long shots and that's how she's scored other goals, so I know she can put those away pretty easily and it was pretty early on, so that felt really good just to get that lead right away."
Kailua, the top seed out of the Eastern Division, improved to 7-3-2 on the year, an improvement upon last season's 2-7 record, when it missed the playoffs altogether.
"It was definitely a harder season last year, so being able to win this definitely means a lot to me and I know for our team and coaches, too," Finkler said. "We've been working really hard at practices and I know all my teammates are super sore and playing through injuries, so I know it means a lot to them for what they put in."
Nanakuli, the top seed out of the Western Division, fell to 4-7-1.
The Golden Hawks were seeking their first league title.
Both teams will represent the OIA in the HHSAA D2 state tournament, which runs Feb. 1-4 at the Waipio Peninsula Soccer Complex.
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