KAHULUI - In a league race that appears to be wide open, at least for the second Division I spot to the state tournament, the Maui High School girls soccer team made a statement in its Maui Interscholastic League opener on Tuesday at its own field.
The Sabers emerged from a defensive battle with a 1-0 victory over perennial contender King Kekaulike on a shot from Sariah Kamalani that ricocheted off a Na Alii defender and into the net in the 64th minute.
Before the goal - and after, until about eight minutes were left to play - this was a battle waged mainly in the middle of the field. The best chance before the goal was a breakaway shot that Maui High's Mary Johannes fired just wide right in the 51st minute.
Mary Johannes (front) of Maui High School battles with King Kekaulike defender Nikki Musto for the ball during the second half Tuesday.
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
"The first half was 0-0 and it was a pretty defensive battle if you watched the first half," Maui High coach Tony Medeiros said. "I think we had most of the possession in the first on our side of the field, but the game was pretty much solid defense against solid defense. This was two good defending teams and it just so happened that that one miscue ended up in the back of the net."
Baldwin returns nine starters from last season's team that tied for fifth in the state tournament and appear to be the clear favorite to win a third straight MIL crown, but after that the race for the final D-I state berth could be up for grabs.
Medeiros expects many more matches like Tuesday's in the season that starts and ends quickly.
"For this year's league, I think it is wide open," Medeiros said. "It was 1-0 today and these are young, talented teams. All those (King Kekaulike) kids play Upcountry and I know almost all of them. They are only going to get better and today's game could have gone either way. If they pop one in and go up 1-0 it could have been a different story. Today, it bounced our way."
Both the Sabers and Na Alii have only three seniors on the roster and none of the Sabers' seniors played on Tuesday. Captain Taylor Wakayama was out with an injury, Jazmine Galaacgac-Keliiwaiwaiole is the backup goalkeeper and Jaydee Giron is a first-year player.
Na Alii captains Maya Palaroan and Mikiala Taylor are two of the most experienced players in the league and fellow senior Tiffany Sutton provides solid depth, but the rest of Na Alii's roster is made up of five freshmen, four sophomores and four juniors.
"I think what both teams were waiting for was the first mistake," King Kekaulike coach Gundi Dancil said. "They played that way, I think. Everybody knows each other so they were waiting to see who builds up."
In the final 10 minutes, the Kekaulike attack created more chances than it had the rest of the match combined. A shot by Kayela Santiago in the 72nd minute was stoned by Maui High goalkeeper Brenna Eden-Spens.
"I think what both sides were looking for was, 'OK, let's start attacking when we have the chance, don't attack, don't give up anything on the field,' " Dancil said. "I think this early in the game, it is open."
* Robert Collias is at firstname.lastname@example.org