Knowledge is power for HPA

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Soccer is called the beautiful game, so by extension Hawaii Prep has a collection of beautiful minds.

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Soccer is called the beautiful game, so by extension Hawaii Prep has a collection of beautiful minds.

Coach Rich Braithwaite will, of course, be on the sidelines for all of Ka Makani’s matches this season, but how would the team fare if he and his assistants were to take a day off?

Step right up Braden Kojima, Austin Schneider and Noah Wise.

“They’d run the show and we’d be fine,” Braithwaite said. “We’ve got three to four guys on the field, that I guarantee you can coach.

“Of 25 guys, I bet 18 of them watch four or five soccer matches a week.”

Braithwaite isn’t discounting the contributions that six departed seniors made on HPA’s first state championship. They brought size and leadership as Ka Makani won its second BIIF Division II crown in three seasons then beat league rival Kamehameha in the HHSAA final.

But the true soccer nuts of the title team remain.

“I don’t have to motivate them at all,” Braithwaite said. “In fact, just the opposite. They take every single minute of every thing incredibly serious.”

If soccer is obsession with this group, then so is competition.

“It’s always a fun environment, but serious in the sense that we have a job and we need to get it done,” said Kojima, a senior center midfielder. “We’re competing not just against other schools, but for each other with starting spots.”

Schneider led the team in goals last season. The senior will play center mid – when HPA aligns in the 4-3-3 – and shares a natural chemistry with his younger brother, Jake, a sophomore forward.

“Jake is going to be key to everything we do,” Braithwaite said. “If we are going to be successful, we have to find his foot all year.

“Austin and Jake see each other without looking up.”

The Schneider brothers will no doubt score many goals this season, as will senior Ghar Pautz, last season’s second-leading scorer, and hard-charging sophomore Toby Balaam.

To the goal-scorer goes the glory, but the glue of the team in Braithwaite’s eyes is in the middle with Kojima and wise-beyond-his-years center back Sihkea Jim, a sophomore.

Everything Ka Makani does goes through them.

“Braden will make sure all year long we’re playing two-touch soccer,” Braithwaite said. “The two of them will touch the ball in a game more than anybody else.”

Junior Ilan Naibryf also will play in the middle and senior Kama Morrison has been an up-and-comer in practice.

Possession will be pivotal for HPA since the roster isn’t dominated with physically imposing players. Braithwaite estimated the average size and weight of the team is 5-feet, 5 inches and 135 pounds.

Look for opponents to try and knock Ka Makani off their game this season.

“The challenge of the year is finding out whether we can play high-quality soccer under any conditions,” Braithwaite said.

Wise, a senior, will play fullback in front of a new goalkeeper. Two sophomores and a freshman are vying for full-time duties.

Along with player knowledge and skill, another luxury for Braithwaite is depth. He feels comfortable going 25 deep, and his reserves showed off their skills last Saturday in accounting for four goals in a 5-0 victory against Waiakea at the Hilo Bay Classic.

HPA’s title defense started at the 45th Ka Makani Classic on Friday in Waimea. Reigning state Division I champion Punahou is in the field, as is five-time D-I BIIF champion Kealakehe.

Last season, HPA started its championship march by winning the tournament, which presents Ka Makani with the competition it craves, as will the BIIF, which is using a three-tier divisional system like the one girls volleyball just implemented.

HPA will play in the Red division, giving it a chance to face off twice against Kealakehe as well as Hilo, Kamehameha and Honokaa.

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“I’m really happy with that because it will benefit us in the end,” Kojima said. “I think it’s important we stay humble and just keep working.

“There is always someone on the mainland who is better than you. You always have to strive higher and higher.”

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