For Lily Higashino, the wait for her senior season was worth it.
Higashino did not play as a junior for the Kamehameha Schools Maui girls soccer team because of a torn anterior cruciate ligament in her knee.
This season, Higashino led the Warriors to an unbeaten Maui Interscholastic League record, and is the unanimous choice of the league's coaches as The Maui News MIL Player of the Year.
Lily Higashino helped Kamehameha Schools Maui to an unbeaten record in the Maui Interscholastic League during her senior season
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
"It feels great because last year I wasn't able to play," said Higashino, who has signed to play in the fall at University of the Pacific. "Just recovering and coming back and winning this award is pretty cool."
Higashino will join her sister Lizzie Higashino at Pacific, but they might not play together. Lizzie Higashino is recovering from a second ACL surgery that will wipe out her junior season for the Tigers in the fall.
The Warriors dominated the MIL in their final season with a Higashino - Kendall Higashino is the oldest of the three.
Lily Higashino is joined on the 12-player MIL first team by six teammates: Hayden Takahashi, Marley Duncan, Kaitlyn Barcoma, Noelani Reyes, Leialoha Medeiros and Quinn Williams. The first team is rounded out by Maui High's Tiare Lucas, Tiana Lucas and Mary-Lynn Johannes, and King Kekaulike's Nikki Musto and Kayela Santiago.
"It was really fun to play on our team this year," Higashino said. "Even when we were practicing and stuff, we had so much fun in practice. We just always had a lot of fun, we always had team bonding."
Tony Medeiros was voted MIL Coach of the Year for leading Maui High to its first state tournament since 1996.
Five seniors leave the Warriors, but Higashino sees the program on the upswing under second-year coach Steve Mau.
"There are 16 more girls who are returning, so I think there's a lot of potential," Higashino said. "(Mau) is very demanding at practice and at games, so it kind of pushed all of us to do better and try our hardest."
Mau will miss Higashino.
"She is actually ahead of her time in the game itself," Mau said. "She is a playmaker and she has a view of the field that few do, so she has a real good head on her for the game.
"Offensively, defensively, pretty much nothing got by her. She's athletically strong and physically strong."
Mau got his first glimpse of Higashino as she worked out by herself on the Kanaiaupuni Stadium turf to recover from her ACL surgery last season while the team practiced.
"She worked so hard to get through that last year," Mau said. "It bothered her, she lost a step, but when you have the field presence and you are that great of a player, you will overcome it like she did."
Higashino has planned on going to Pacific for some time.
"All of my friends are stressing about colleges," she said. "I just had to apply for one. We all had to apply for UH Maui (by Kamehameha school rule), but those are the only two schools I applied to."
The Higashino soccer legacy will live on at the Pukalani campus, even though the subject doesn't come up much among the sisters.
"My sisters always tell me to work out hard in the offseason," Lily Higashino said. "We don't normally talk about soccer otherwise."
* Robert Collias is at email@example.com