Nānākuli headed in right direction
by Stanley Lee
Advertiser Staff Writer
NĀNĀKULI — As the blowouts continued in the preseason, there was frustration and concern if the staggering slide would continue into the regular season.
"I believe that some of the girls did. You'd think about it, like 'what if we're like this?' " Nānākuli senior Aza Ah Tou said of her soccer team.
Ah Tou thought things were turning around when the Golden Hawks won back-to-back games when the regular season began in the O'ahu Interscholastic Association White Division. It was the beginning of six straight wins for Nānākuli (10-2-0), a team with players of different experience levels that now finds itself in this week's JN Automotive Group/Hawai'i High School Athletic Association Girls Soccer Division II State Championships. Nānākuli, which lost to Kailua in last Friday's OIA White championship game, plays Kamehameha-Hawai'i (10-3-0) in a first-round game today at 3 p.m. at the Waipi'o Peninsula Soccer Complex.
"We were motivated to get this far," said junior Chardynae Morgan, who led the team with 13 goals during the regular season. "We worked hard as a team. We wanted to be the best and actually to get a winning record in any sport."
There's great pride among the players and on campus over the team's season, particularly since wins are rare for the school's athletic teams, and when players are cognizant of the negative stereotypes about their school.
"People outside Nānākuli think that 'bad, oh no Nānākuli, fights.' They think negative things about us," said junior goalkeeper Christine Kahue, who allowed just four goals during the regular season. "But really, the kids, it's not horrible. We put our minds to stuff, we know we can do it.
"The putdowns that people tell about us, that's what puts us down. But this season we learned to put that aside and prove that Nānākuli isn't bad and that we can do it."
Over the weekend, Ah Tou kept hearing about the White title game. On Monday, Kahue's classmates congratulated her. Also this week, Nānākuli's boys paddling team, which won the O'ahu Interscholastic Association title, is competing in the state championship regatta.
"Coming to school today, it felt pretty good, people coming up to me and telling me congratulations, especially when they told me I was the Impact Player," Kahue said of the award given out by OC-16.
The Golden Hawks are returning to the state championship for the first time since 2007 with a diverse cast. Some players are relatively new to the sport, some played since they were kids, others are multi-sport athletes. Only Mapu Ku and Jaysha Santiago play club soccer outside of the high school season.
Three of the team's seven freshmen are in the starting lineup, along with the four captains — Ah Tou, Morgan, Chelsea Eli-Kido and Briana Woolsey — who have taken a vocal approach to make sure things get done.
"If we don't (yell), they tend to play around, if you play around, you won't get things done, you won't learn anything and if they play around, we'll yell at them," Morgan said. "But not yell at them for make them hate us. We as captains have to lead our team and make our team be the best 'cause why we go let them play around?
"When it comes to the games, the way they practice is how they'll play in the games. We like them practice hard so we can play harder in the games."
The Hawks had just enough players last year, going 4-4-4 and falling just short of states. This year's group has more experience and coach Richard Wentling, the Leeward area's longtime American Youth Soccer Organization coach, conducted a youth soccer clinic last spring to stir interest in potential students.
"What I like about this team this year, they have heart and desire and they wanted to play, so they came out, practiced and gave their all and did what they were told and try to make themselves a better soccer player," Wentling said.
His tough preseason schedule, consisting of mainly Division I teams, took an early toll, but it prepared his players for the season ahead.
"Last year we never really had that much talent; it was only in certain spots,"said Woolsey, a senior. "This year we have talent throughout the whole field
"It's more exciting this year because we did it together and not just certain girls did it."