KAHULUI - Shauni Okazaki was 7 months old when the Maui High School girls soccer team last won the Maui Interscholastic League title.
The senior captain and her Sabers teammates are in position to capture a state berth for the first time since 1996, and control their own destiny in the race for the league crown, after completing a sweep of Hana with a 3-0 victory on Saturday at Maui High field.
"It feels very exciting," Okazaki said after Maui High moved into a three-way tie for second place in the MIL Division I standings with two matches to play. "We have worked very hard since, like, 1997 and I'm really proud of my team for working and trying their best at practice. They just worked so hard for this. I hope we get it."
Maui High’s Tiana Lucas leaps over Hana’s Precious Helekahi as Sydney Kapoi-Smith trails the play during the Sabers’ 2-0 win over the Dragons on Saturday.
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
Okazaki said the Sabers (9-1-2) were showing a bit of fatigue - Saturday's match against the Dragons (3-11-0) was scoreless at halftime. Maui High won 6-0 on Friday.
Maui High has a showdown with league leader Kamehameha Maui (11-2-0) on Tuesday at Kanaiaupuni Stadium. The Sabers finish league play with a make-up match against Lahainaluna.
"I hope we win (against) Kam so we can go to states," Okazaki said. "I'm very, very excited."
Coach Tony Medeiros led the Sabers to a state runner-up finish in 1984, the Maui High program's second season - Punahou won the final in double overtime. He has 12 MIL titles to his credit, but none in the last 17 years.
"My assistant coach, Leilani Green, she was on that (1996) team," Medeiros said. "We kind of talk about the past history of Maui High, but to be in the position we are right now - if we win out we will be the league champions, but we cannot afford a loss."
The Sabers dominated the second half against the Dragons with goals from Jacy Sera in the 50th minute, Jovena Lee-Agcaoili on a header off a corner kick from Kara Oshiro in the 57th and Oshiro on a corner kick in stoppage time after the ball hit a defender.
"I think the difference this year has been the chemistry," Medeiros said. "We have had some great teams in the past, we just haven't had the luck go our way. I think we have just been playing good, team soccer. We don't have one player that is a standout player."
Hana, which was eliminated from MIL title contention later in the day, set a school record for wins - the Dragons won two matches in each of their first two seasons.
"A tie would have been a big difference for us," said Hana coach Vance Pu.
Hana has fewer than 90 students enrolled in the high school and dressed just 13 players Saturday. Pu said the Dragons had three significant injuries this season.
"With such a small school, you lose two, three key players, it just makes a difference in the make-up of the team," Pu said. "I had at least three, four players who never played before in their lives, so it has been that kind of a season. It has been an up-and-down season. It's been rough - all the injuries were starters."
The Dragons earned the Sabers' respect.
"I think the most improvement from any team is Hana," Medeiros said. "Coach Vance Pu, his assistants, they are working really hard with his team. I see some great development with their team. It can only get better and better. They are a good team, we didn't take them lightly, by no means."
* Robert Collias is at firstname.lastname@example.org