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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, February 18, 2007

Punahou remains golden with second title in a row

 Photo gallery State boys soccer gallery

By Leila Wai
Advertiser Staff Writer

Punahou's Christopher Walker, the state tournament's Most Outstanding Player, joins teammates after defeating Kalani for the championship.

Photos by ANDREW SHIMABUKU | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Punahou's Ben Strand (5) gets a hug from goalkeeper Tanner Kim after scoring the winning goal against Kalani.

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The Punahou boys soccer team took advantage of a season-long lesson in struggles in capturing its second straight state title.

Punahou defeated Kalani, 3-2, on a last-minute goal in a back-and-forth championship game in the Meadow Gold Dairies /HHSAA Boys Soccer State Championships last night at the Waipi'o Peninsula Soccer Stadium in front of more than 3,000 fans.

"It feels euphoric," Punahou senior captain Will Jensen said. "It feels like we really earned it. We've been down a bunch of games, and this team has a bunch of battlers. We didn't have one hero. We had 25 leaders.

"That's how we knew we would be able to prevail in the end."

Punahou junior midfielder Ben Strand scored with less than a minute left to lift the Buffanblu (15-1-1) to their 16th overall championship. The Buffanblu won five games in eight days, including two in overtime one in a playoff just to receive a state berth.

"The whole season we learned how to fight back, and it showed in this final game," Strand said.

Punahou sophomore Alessi Sia and senior Deryck Lim also scored for Punahou, both come-from-behind scores.

"It's just awesome to repeat and win for coach," senior captain Nick Love said. "It was a tough game. Our team will never give up. We're always putting the pressure on."

Punahou coach Bob Clague said this team had its own personality.

"They really cared about each other," he said. "I knew it was going to be tough. We had a lot of returnees, but that can be bad too. You still have to do it on the field."

Kalani senior forward Carter Kam scored in the 13th minute after he controlled a throw-in from the right side and blasted a no-angle shot a few feet away from the endline. He shot a high ball that slid in between the goalkeeper and the right post.

Punahou's Sia tied the game at 1 in the 33rd minute on a volley off a throw-in by Troy Yasuda from the left side.

"It felt good to finally put one in," Sia said. "It was my most important goal of the season. It was instinct to hit the ball."

Kalani sophomore midfielder Danny Higa scored in the 55th minute off a corner kick from the left side by senior midfielder Kenn Kamoto. Kamoto's kick was punched out by the Punahou goalkeeper and the ball went to Higa, who volleyed it into the net.

Punahou tied it again on a score by Lim, on a header off a throw-in by Yasuda in the 66th minute.

"After I hit it I knew it was going in," said Lim, who had been out half the season with a left hamstring injury. "We've been in this situation before, so we knew we could get through it."

Strand scored the game-winner after a shot by Caton Smith was knocked out by goalkeeper, then Love crashed the goalkeeper and the ball came loose for Strand as he shot into the open goal with less than a minute remaining in the game.

"Those last five minutes, we were pushing hard. We were wiped out but we didn't want to go to overtime," Strand said. "I just ran through. I'm not sure how I got around the defender."

Kalani (12-5-1) coach Myles Arakawa said, "I thought we had them. We play with a lot of heart and purpose, exactly what we do in practice, and it showed."

Reach Leila Wai at lwai@honoluluadvertiser.com.