KAILUA-KONA — The Kona Crush Soccer Academy has spent the last month on the move, aiming to expand its collection of hardware from tournaments around the state.
The crown jewel of the haul this year for the Crush was the first of its kind — a victory at the Hawaii State Cup on Oahu by the club’s under-16 girls squad.
According to the club’s Director of Coaching, Vinny La Porta, it’s the first time a Big Island team has brought home the title from the event, which functions as the state championships of club soccer.
“I have personally coached in about a dozen state championship games for youth club soccer in Hawaii and never won,” La Porta said. “The girls are amazing. They are so smart, so receptive, so creative and passionate. I have learned a lot about coaching while working with this group. We have been at it for three years and finally were able to go to Oahu confidently and do something special.”
The Crush girls won the five-team round robin tournament late last month by virtue of a head-to-head result against Rush Maui, which was a 3-1 victory. The Kona squad also beat Hawaii Rush 5-2 and Leahi 6-1. With the tourney title already locked up, the Crush dropped its final game 2-1 to FC Hawaii.
What added to the degree of difficulty during the championship campaign was playing with a roster where half of the players were playing a year up — born in 2004 but competing against 2003 birth-year players. There were also three girls playing two years up, a nearly unheard of feat, according to La Porta.
“To win the tourney with over half the team playing up an age group and three players playing up two school years — that’s truly amazing and testament to the level play these girls are producing right now,” said La Porta. “When the game gets more tactical and intelligent, sheer athleticism is taken out of the winning equation. You don’t need the biggest, fastest players on the pitch to win a soccer match if you have highly intelligent and technical players instead. We out possessed, out passed, out defended and outclassed every opponent.”
The roster was made up of: Averie Salinas-Gouveia, Finesity Salinas –Gouveia, Audrey Weir, Caiya Hanks, Michelle Gonzalez, Lily Hatanaka, Riley Blaber, Oriana Tremaine , Alianna West-Rodrigues, Maila Brost , Ciara Blaber, Nanea Wong, Ruby Helmuth, Catie Moynahan, Kii Takada, Mohala Kalauli, Jane Grace-Cootey and Brooke Bailey.
Two other Kona Crush teams — the under-16 boys (2003) and under-15 boys (2004) — brought home runner-up trophies.
It was an ominous start for the under-16 squad, which scored on itself within 10 seconds of its first game, eventually going down 3-0 just 20 minutes into the opener against Nemesis FC, an Oahu club. A goal from Kaisei Kelly helped ease the nerves for the Kona team, heading into half trailing 3-1, but there was still a fair share of anxiety going around following the slow start.
“The boys were then very shook, obviously,” said La Porta. “The half time talk was tears, anger and frustration shown in their faces. Players in tears apologizing to the team saying they blew it and lost the game for the team.
“I asked these kids whats most important in life, right now, in the face of adversity and failure. The result? The goals we get or don’t? Whats most important for your family, your blood, your name to see right now? They agreed that its how they respond to this adversity, how they rebound from the mistakes and carry on with honor, passion, intensity and belief in the grimacing face of failure.”
The talk worked and the Crush pushed for a 3-3 result, which coupled with a 5-0 loss by Nemesis against Hawaii Rush, made the team’s game against the Rush the next day a championship contest in the three-team round robin tourney.
The 2003 birth-year boys came out on fire against Rush, taking a 2-0 lead. However, the Kona boys eventually ran out of gas against an opponent with more manpower — 18 players to the Crush’s 13 — and fresh legs, falling 3-2.
“In the end they knew that their ability to turn around the previous day’s three-goal deficit and prove to themselves, their parents and grandparents that they aren’t weak inside,” said La Porta. “That was gold, worth more than the silver hardware we took home.”
The players on the Crush ‘03 team were: Zachary Aderinto, D’marco Mireles, Kaisei Kelly, Dominic DiDonato, Travis Ichishita, Gordon “Alama” Kala, Daniel Avendano, Taiyo Thom, Isaiah Easley, Adam Foster, Nathan Weir, Carson Nishida and Joseph Roback.
Lastly, but surely not least, were the Crush Under-15 boys who also came home with a runner-up finish. The Crush beat Hawaii Rush Nero 3-0, FC Hawaii 2-0 and the Honolulu Bulls 3-1, before eventually falling to Hawaii Rush’s top squad in the championship.
La Porta said it was the first time the team had made it to a championship game at the State Cup.
“It was a massive experience for the kids,” he said. “They are young and very talented, but have never truly been up against an opponent that can dominate possession and constantly create problems for us to solve. Combined with the feeling you get when playing in that big stadium field on Oahu, the boys struggled to maintain their confidence and composure.”
However, La Porta and his staff see the loss as a stepping stone to brighter days ahead.
“I told them that this match, this heavy defeat has opened their eyes to what’s out there, what’s conquerable … That’s experience, and experience is always gold, even when it means the trophy is silver,” said La Porta. “I asked them, if I could bottle up today, the pressure, the feelings, the failures, the pain, all of it, how often would you drink that drink? They said, everyday. I was so happy to hear that the pain they felt, the pressure, the failure and the sadness of defeat in a final, they all said confidently to my face they would welcome that feeling every day if they had the choice, as it was experience that makes them stronger.”
Kawaihua Paikuli-Campbell, Kaisei Mochizuki, Noah Condon, Nuuhiwa Beatty, Kanoa Blake, Jack Jeremiah, Kala’e Mills, Ka’elele Fernandez, Matt Enrique, Chase Lurbiecki, Oli Bautista, Aidan Santos, Riley Caron, Christian Phillips, Fatu Fuga, Waikili Chappell, Colin Crawford and Zed Jacot-McDavid made up the Crush’s U-15 team.
La Porta credited his committed staff for the success of all the teams, including Teva Beatty and Toshi Mochizuki (‘04 boys), Tiago Oliveira and Tod Ichishita (‘03 boys) and Cheryl Brost and Keith Marini (‘03 girls). Jen Jaques coached the goalkeepers on all the teams.