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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, April 9, 2002

Baldwin's Atay, Mililani's French share Player of the Year honors

Mele French
Carmen Calpo
Pearl City
Kami Kapaku

Kara Ishikawa
Jody Unten
Romy Trigg-Smith

Jolie Nitta
Koren Takeyama
Lori Sakai

Jen Loo
Mahie Atay

First Team, Second Team, Honorable Mention
Neighbor Island Soccer All-Stars

By Wes Nakama
Advertiser Staff Writer

Preventing goals and scoring them are the strengths of the state's top players. Baldwin's Mahie Atay makes a save in the state tournament.

Eugene Tanner • The Honolulu Advertiser

Something had to give.

O'ahu's top offensive weapon, Mililani High School forward Mele French, was closing in on the ball and hoping to shoot it past Baldwin's fast-approaching Mahie Atay — the state's top goalkeeper — late in this year's girls state soccer championship game.

Something did give, and unfortunately it was French's left ankle as the two players collided. French left the field with a sprain, but cheered her Trojan teammates to a 2-1 victory on penalty kicks.

In voting for The Advertiser's State Player of the Year, French and Atay again were squared off, and this time nothing gave. They finished tied in votes cast by 11 coaches, officials and members of the media, and share Player of the Year honors.

Both seniors were first-team All-State players last year and were deserving of this year's top honor.

Atay led Baldwin's surprising run back to the state championship game after the Bears lost 2001 State Player of the Year Nicole Garbin to graduation.

Atay was especially impressive in the state tournament, where she put on an amazing goalkeeping display in the semifinals and final. In Baldwin's 2-1 semifinal upset over Punahou, Atay made 15 saves in regulation and two overtimes, then stopped two of the Buffanblu's final three shots to allow the Bears to win on penalty kicks.

In the 2-1 penalty-kick loss to Mililani in the championship game, Atay made six spectacular saves, and the only goal she allowed in 100 minutes of play was on a rebound shot off a penalty kick.

"She's an awesome keeper," French said after the game. "I give her all the credit."

French, who led all O'ahu players — boys and girls — with 23 goals during the regular season, deserves credit for disrupting defensive game plans. She was held without a goal in three state tournament games, but her presence still was a big factor as opponents sent two, and sometimes three, defenders to keep her out of harm's way.

"She's a terrific player, a finisher who can really put the ball away," Punahou coach Jorge Barbosa said.

French, who scored nearly 80 goals in her four-year career, will join Garbin on University of Oregon's team next fall.

Baldwin and Mililani each placed three players on the All-State first team. Atay is joined by sophomore forward Kami Kapaku and junior midfielder/defender Koren Takeyama.

Kapaku led the state with 27 goals in the regular season, and her left-footed shot into the top left corner of the net from 20 yards out tied the state championship game in the 45th minute. She also had a goal and an assist in the Bears' 3-0 quarterfinal victory over Kalaheo.

Takeyama, who made the All-State first team last year as a defender, was a standout performer throughout this year's state tournament while moving back and forth from fullback to halfback.

Besides French, Mililani also is represented on the first team by senior midfielder Jolie Nitta and junior defender Jen Loo.

Nitta, one of the state's top playmakers, assisted French on many of her goals this season. The two shared O'ahu Interscholastic Association Western Division Player of the Year honors.

Loo led a defense that allowed only one goal in 260 minutes of state tournament action.

Interscholastic League of Honolulu runner-up Iolani had two players on the first team: senior midfielder Kara Ishikawa and senior defender Lori Sakai. Ishikawa was a top playmaker and also tied for second in the ILH with five goals. Sakai was recognized as one of the league's top defensive players.

The other three players making the All-State first team were Pearl City senior forward Carmen Calpo, Punahou senior forward Romy Trigg-Smith and 'Aiea senior midfielder Jodie Unten.

Calpo, a fleet-footed senior, tied for second among O'ahu players with 17 goals in the regular season. She has signed a letter of intent to play for Hawai'i next year.

"UH is getting a real good player," Barbosa said.

Trigg-Smith was a key factor in Punahou's ILH championship season. Unten scored nine goals and helped Na Ali'i finish second in the OIA West.

Mililani's James Uson, who guided the Trojans to their first state championship since 1994, was named Coach of the Year. Mililani went 14-0-1, with the tie coming against 'Aiea during the regular season.The Trojans avenged that tie in the state semifinals by defeating Na Ali'i, 1-0.

It was Mililani's first victory over 'Aiea in at least three years, Uson said.

Baldwin's Kawika Keator, whose team lost Garbin and had only two seniors on its roster, also received consideration for Coach of the Year. The Bears withstood several injuries late in the season and were forced to shuffle their lineup, but still finished 12-2-2 and came within a few penalty kicks of winning their third straight state title.