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Punahou finished off year-long road to redemption with win over Kamehameha in D1 final

Despite some wet weather in the morning, there was no raining on Punahou's parade Saturday night. 

The Buffanblu finished off a state-championship run — their first since 2011 — with a 3-0 win over rival Kamehameha in the final game of the Motiv8 Foundation/HHSAA Division I Girls Soccer State Championships before a crowd of more than 2,000 fans at Waipahu's Masa Yonamine Athletic Complex. 

For Punahou, it was the final step in a year-long road to redemption. It reached the state final a year ago, only to fall to the Warriors in a penalty-kick shootout. 

Forward Ellie Gusman disclosed that a missed PK near the end of regulation threw the Buffanblu off-track the rest of the match. 

"I think last year we lost our composure in our state championship game against them," she said. 

Saturday's win over Kamehameha was Punahou's first in four tries this season. The teams played to 1-1 ties in both of their regular-season meetings and most recently, the Warriors blanked the Buffanblu, 2-0, for the Interscholastic League of Honolulu championship. 

"This year we were able to maintain that throughout the entire season and I think that's what really put us over because keeping our composure has helped us to maintain a good balance and keep positivity and be able to uplift each other even in tough situations and that's exactly what we did after we were defeated against them for the ILH championship," said Gusman, a senior co-captain. 

Punahou coach Shelley Izuno saw her team — and coaching staff — undergo a paradigm shift this year, with regard to the Warriors. 

"We kept saying in the past several years that Kamehameha was a ‘second-half team and they always came out strong, but second half they came out stronger,' so we said, ‘Why are we saying that? Like, why don't we change that? Why don't we be the second-half team?' And I've just been telling them at halftime, our energy's gonna go up or it's gonna go down — it's up to you to pick — and they've just picked it up ever since our Waiakea game," she said. 

As the ILH runner-up to Kamehameha, Punahou's path to the title game began last Monday with a first-round game against Pearl City, the fourth-place team out of the Oahu Interscholastic Association. Meanwhile, the Warriors enjoyed a bye. 

The Buffanblu pulled out a 2-1 win over the Chargers and then were put to the test — at least in the first half — of Thursday's quarterfinal-round matchup against third-seeded Waiakea. The Warriors from the Big Island took an early lead, but Xevani Salanoa scored twice in a four-minute span for Punahou. Waiakea equalized before the half, but the Buffanblu found the back of the net three times in the second half in the 5-2 win. 

The following day, it was a Dalen Lau penalty kick that was the difference in a 1-0 win over previously-unbeaten Mililani in a tightly-contested semifinal. The title game, however — which was moved from Waipio Peninsula Soccer Stadium due to heavy rains Saturday morning — while back and forth early on, surged overwhelmingly Punahou's way in the end. The Buffanblu already had a one-nil cushion thanks to a Salanoa goal in the 26th minute, but seized complete control with Carly Ann Cormack's goal in the 61st, compounded by a Gusman goal a minute later. 

Izuno ranked her team's second-half execution as "tops" in her years of coaching. 

"The execution, they started to connect, taking the shots — great shots — and we've been finding (Kamehameha goalkeeper) Marley Roe and we said, ‘OK, keep away from the keeper today,' " Izuno said. 

For Salanoa, who is signed with Westminster College (Utah), it was the perfect ending to a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play on the same team with younger sisters Xehlia and Xeyana. 

"I think this was just a special season for me knowing that this was my last season and also my first season playing with my younger sister and I think that that just gave me more motivation knowing that this would be our first and last year playing all together and we all worked very hard this season. We put in a lot of effort in trainings or in practice and in the end we were able to execute," she said. 

Even with the annual Punahou Carnival taking place on campus over the weekend, Izuno's squad kept its focus — and collective appetite — fixed on the soccer pitch. 

"Having that extra (ILH championship) game and then the fourth game (in a week), yeah, it's tough, but they're really good about taking care of their bodies; We stay on ‘em about sleep, hydration, making sure they're eating good food — no malasadas, no teriburgers over the weekend," Izuno laughed. 

It wasn't until after the final buzzer sounded Saturday night that the sixth-year coach of the Buffanblu could finally — finally — breathe a sign of relief. 

"It's been a hard year and honestly, I felt it until today and we all have and I think just having that fire for the 17 returnees to come back to this game and know we were gonna leave with the result we wanted," Izuno said. 

No chance a little rain was going to get in the way of that. 

Reach Kalani Takase at [email protected].

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