Sabers look to reverse history

Kauhaahaa-Sulusi, Takara help lead Maui High into D-I state semifinal rematch against Hilo

Maui High School’s Trent Takara celebrates his interception next to Trey Gaspar (right) and Torryn Kauhaahaa-Sulusi during the Sabers’ win over Kamehameha Maui on Sept. 29. The Sabers travel to the Big Island to take on top-seeded and defending champion Hilo in a Division I state semifinal on Friday. The Maui News / CHRIS SUGIDONO photo

KAHULUI — Torryn Kauhaahaa-Sulusi has watched classmate Trent Takara grow up with the Maui High School football team since both were freshmen.

Now, the pair of seniors rarely leave the field for the Sabers, who will play top-seeded Hilo on Friday in the Division I semifinals of the Hawaii High School Athletic Association state tournament.

“Now, he’s an animal on the field,” Kauhaahaa-Sulusi said of the friend with whom he roams the Sabers’ defensive secondary. “That’s my brother.”

The game, set for 7 p.m. at Keaau High School field, is a rematch of a semifinal last season that was won by the Vikings at Wong Stadium, a baseball facility.

Takara, who has four interceptions in the last two games, said the Sabers know how to handle the trip better this year.

“Really our mental preparation,” Takara said of what has improved. “Last year, like coach said, we weren’t focused at all. Everyone was messing around in the hotel and this year we know what it feels like to work so hard for something and not get there.

“So, I think the seniors and everyone who was there last year is going to step up and really push the team to try their best.”

The Sabers know they let an opportunity slip away in last season’s 26-7 loss to the Vikings in the mud of the Wong Stadium outfield.

With the Big Island Interscholastic Federation’s first-ever D-I victory in state football, the Vikings became the first Neighbor Island team to make a D-I state final. A week later, Hilo beat Damien to become the first non-Oahu team to win a D-I state football title.

“Definitely, I remember watching the news after that Hilo had never won a (state tournament) game, so for us to be the ones to help them get there, that kind of hurt a lot,” Takara said. “But knowing that they can take on Oahu teams and beat them, I don’t see why we can’t. … Now we know the atmosphere that we’re going in to and we’re going to be ready.”

Maui High coach James Kammerer remembers last season’s Big Island trip well.

“We’re humbled to have played Hilo last year — they ended up winning that Division I state championship, so hat’s off to them and the program they’ve built,” he said at practice Monday. “We’re just trying to scratch our surface. We’re nowhere near our potential. We’re hoping to give them a good game and do our best.”

Hilo coach Kaeo Drummondo said his team expects a “physical game kind of like last year,” led by Maui High’s Naia Nakamoto, who ran for an MIL record 1,353 yards and 16 touchdowns in nine league games.

“He’s a heck of a runner,” Drummondo said. “You’ve got to contain him, you’ve got to team tackle him. Defensively they’re big again. You know, they eat up those inside gaps, so you’ve got to try to generate some offense, get your players in space.”

Takara started the season as a receiver — he has 10 catches in MIL play — but has become a stellar member of the Sabers’ defense, too. His five interceptions have all come in the last five games.

“This is really the first year I’ve played defense,” Takara said. “Halfway through the year coach was just, like, ‘Oh yeah, you’re going to go play corner.’ I feel like I get the ball more on defense, so I like that.”

Takara smiled when asked about his friendship with Kauhaahaa-Sulusi, who along with fellow senior Mitchell Hirose made Takara feel welcome as a freshman.

“I really didn’t have any friends because everyone was from Kihei and I didn’t talk to Kihei people,” said Takara, who lives in Kahului. “It was my first year playing, so they kind of helped me and taught me how to play.”

Kauhaahaa-Sulusi added, “He didn’t really know anything about it. So me and Mitchell kind of helped him out. It’s been a pleasure playing with him.”

Kauhaahaa-Sulusi plays defensive back, slot receiver, outside linebacker, quarterback, tight end and nearly all of the special teams.

“I come off the field probably, like, three or four times each game and that’s only one play and then I get right back in,” he said.

Kammerer said Takara and Kauhaahaa-Sulusi are essential to the Sabers’ hopes.

“Torryn’s a special young man, we have a whole team of special young men that I’m proud of,” Kammerer said. “Whenever we ask them to move to multiple positions or play special teams, they follow through. We’re doing whatever it takes to win a championship, so we’re hoping that we can have fresh legs, we can be in good condition, and we can stay healthy.”

* Robert Collias is at rcollias@mauinews.com