For many reasons, Jaren Otani knows he is quite fortunate.
With 16 goals and 13 assists, the senior striker led the Baldwin High School boys soccer team on an unbeaten run to the Maui Interscholastic League title and a spot in the state semifinals, and emerged from a crowded race to claim recognition from the league's coaches as The Maui News MIL Player of the Year.
"When I found out, I was, like, really surprised," Otani said Monday. "The top three teams that were battling for the top spot all had great players this year, so I was surprised. I couldn't have done it without my teammates."
Jaren Otani had 16 goals and 13 assists in Baldwin High School’s unbeaten Maui Interscholastic League season, and helped the team finish fourth in the Division I state tournament.
The Maui News / ROBERT COLLIAS photo
Among the other candidates for the award was longtime friend and teammate Nick Lawrence, who had 10 goals and 19 assists.
"I have been playing with him since I was, like, 8 years old, playing on the same team for soccer," Otani said. "No one ever really saw us as individual players, it was always: 'Those two players, those are the main players. When they play together, they are unstoppable.' "
After missing the state tournament last season, Baldwin edged defending champion Kamehameha Maui by two points for the MIL crown after both of their regular-season matches ended in ties. In the Division I state tournament, each team lost in the semifinals before the Warriors beat the Bears 1-0 in the third-place game.
Otani and Lawrence are joined on the 12-player MIL first team by teammates Benjamin Wuthrich and Matthew Foronda; Kamehameha's Brennan Joaquin, Daniel Quenga, Micah Alo, Chandler Alo, Avinash Singh and Kailoa Akoi, who transferred from Baldwin; and Micah Tateishi and Lionel Mills from third-place King Kekaulike.
Baldwin coach Kane Palazzotto was named MIL Coach of the Year.
"He was huge for us," Otani said of Palazzotto. "He was obviously the best coach on the island, possibly the state. If it wasn't for him, none of this would have happened."
Palazzotto said he would not have received the coaching nod without his star striker, who led the Bears to a 59-7 scoring edge in 12 MIL matches.
"(Otani) was awesome this year, he really took it on his shoulders to lead the team," Palazzotto said. "Nick is the guy, too. Nick was the guy who made our offense run and Jaren was the one to put the goals away, and he did. Not only in the games where we scored a ton of goals, Jaren showed up in the big games."
Otani plans to take his soccer skills to a Pacific Northwest college in the fall, either Pacific University or Whitworth, and most likely not will be on a team with Lawrence for the first time in a decade.
"It's hard to believe that it's over," Otani said. "I don't think it has set in yet. I wish we shared this award - he meant as much as me."
* Robert Collias is at firstname.lastname@example.org