KAILUA-KONA — Coming into the year, those familiar with the Makua Lani program knew the young Lions had potential to be great this season.
But with so many fresh faces in key places — including seven freshman starters — it would have made sense that the team would need some time to adjust to the high school level.
That has not been the case.
Behind a youth movement bolstered by senior player pillars, Makua Lani is off to a roaring 3-0 start and has established itself as the early BIIF Division II team to beat.
“We are carrying a lot of the same core, but some young club soccer players are coming up and making a difference,” Makua Lani head coach Alex Dong said. “It’s been a combination of the young blood pushing the pace and the older players getting them adjusted.”
Is Dong surprised by his team’s early success? Not really.
“Maybe the results are coming quicker, but this team is looking like we thought they would,” he said.
The Lions’ latest victim was Honokaa on Saturday at Old Kona Airport Park. The Dragons hung with Makua Lani for the majority of the game until the Lions exploded for four late goals in a 5-1 victory.
Isaiah Easley recorded a natural hat trick in the second half for the Lions, netting a trio of goals within a 15 minute span, including a penalty kick. Emmett Alcos opened the scoring with a header off a corner kick and Kai van Bergen added a late insurance goal.
Koa Miche had the lone tally for Honokaa, which fell to 1-3.
“We were joking that the score in the newspaper is going to look a lot better than the actual game,” Dong said. “At the end of the day, it was a job well done. The guys worked really hard and in a long season, sometimes you have to grind out the results and win ugly.”
Alcos — the team’s senior captain — agreed with his coach that the game was a little too close for comfort.
“The offense at the end showed what we can do, but we don’t want to do that all the time,” Alcos said. “It would be nice to put it away a little earlier and not have to scramble in the final 15 minutes.”
With such a green roster, Alcos and the four other seniors are in charge of guiding and grooming the roster of young Lions. But as Alcos notes, the young guns don’t need too much hand-holding.
“They are already a great, talented group of players,” Alcos said. “That’s what club (soccer) has done for them. They are high pace players and have calmness on the ball.”
Honokaa was the third consecutive D-II opponent Makua Lani has put away to open the season. Most notable among those wins was a 3-1 victory over Kamehameha-Hawaii — the defending BIIF and state champions.
“That was a big win,” Alcos said. “It was a good two-goal margin too, so it was no hoax. We are putting in the work and I think it’s showing.”
A team from the Big Island has won the D-II state title five times in the last eight years and three seasons consecutively. Honokaa (2011,’12) and Hawaii Prep (‘16,’17) both won back-to-back titles, while Kamehameha was the last team standing last season.
That fact is not lost on the Lions — whose only BIIF title came in 2006, back when coach Dong was on the squad. But they aren’t looking ahead just yet.
“We are not getting ahead of ourselves,” Dong said. “We want to continue what we are doing and finish out the season strong.”