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Na Alii on right track

After ending losing streak, King Kekaulike looks to take next step

King Kekaulike High School quarterback Franco Melgar Martich breaks for a long touchdown run against Kwansei Gakuin of Japan in the first quarter of Na Alii’s 37-20 loss Saturday at King Kekaulike Stadium. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photos

PUKALANI — It was a preseason game on the first Saturday in August, but it meant the world to the King Kekaulike High School football team.

Na Alii put a 41-game, nearly-five-season losing streak to bed with an impressive 30-0 win over McKinley on Oahu.

With a roster of 42 players, 19 of which are seniors — both the largest numbers in more than five years — King Kekaulike fans have reasons to smile with the Maui Interscholastic League set to start when Lahainaluna travels Upcountry on Saturday.

“I think it can set us up tremendously for bigger and better things,” fourth-year head coach Tyson Valle said of the McKinley victory, which was the first for Na Alii since Sept. 5, 2014. “For our guys, especially our seniors, they’ve definitely been down in the trenches since their freshman year. Those guys never showed any signs of quit. They kept coming back each and every year, putting in the time in the offseason.

“That offseason, I think we did a phenomenal job. So, we’re ready for the season.”

King Kekaulike’s Kali Kuhaulua picks up a first down during the first quarter Saturday against Kwansei Gakuin.

Two years ago, King Kekaulike scored just five touchdowns for the season. They scored five TDs in the win over McKinley and two more on Saturday night in a 37-20 loss to Kwansei Gakuin of Japan.

They have scored on two punt returns and have kicked three field goals.

It all started with the win on Oahu.

“I think one of the things we wanted to establish going into this season was that we are going to stay focused all the way to the end, no matter what,” Valle said. “We ain’t going to stop until that last buzzer goes off and we’re done. I think that’s the precedence we set on that trip. The kids rose to the occasion.”

The steps are falling into place for Na Alii –this program won the first state title in MIL football history, claiming the 2006 D-II crown — and at least one major goal has been accomplished.

“The first step was to win that first game, I mean, obviously, that was the first thing,” Valle said. “The next step is to win the MIL, our next step is to get into states and win states. That’s kind of what we’re striving for this year. I think we’ve got the personnel to do it.”

The offense is led by senior quarterback Franco Melgar Martich, who has accounted for three touchdowns already. His main weapon will be Trey Hunter, who was banged up on a 59-yard punt return for a touchdown against McKinley, but is expected to be back for the Lahainaluna game this week.

“I think (the McKinley win) means a lot, to us, the community itself, the guys who put forth a lot of effort, a lot of time in the offseason and all that,” Melgar Martich said. “I think we deserve it just as much as the fans deserve it as well.”

Hunter set a state record last season when he caught 10 passes for 342 yards, claiming the mark for single-game receiving yards. Travis Quitevis and Tani Kaholoaa will also be receiving targets, while Kali Kuhaulua and Kimo DeRego will be heavily used ball carriers.

“I feel with the corps group that we have now it opens up the opportunity for a lot of other things that we probably weren’t able to run before because we didn’t have that much depth as a team,” Melgar Martich said.

One of the strengths of the team is the defensive line. Helmut Baschleben Finau (5-foot-11, 191 pounds, junior) and Maika Finau (5-9, 224, sophomore) are the defensive ends, while Isaac Akinaka (5-10, 270, senior) and Pokai Kanaele (6-0, 280, junior) are the starters on the interior of the 4-3 base defensive plan.

Baschleben Finau brings a worldwide background to the team.

“I’m German and Tongan, but I was born in New Zealand,” he said. “It’s funny how I’ve made it to Hawaii, all across the whole world. New Zealand, where my parents met and I was born, then we moved to Australia, then after Australia my dad had family in Maui, so we moved to Maui — that’s how we got here.”

No doubt, the world traveler is a leader on this team. His interviews often veer off track from the topic of football — a lot of his ability on the gridiron was gained from playing rugby.

“I’m not only a football player, I’m not only a rugby player — I also make music,” he said. “I’m an artist, I want to be a hip-hop artist.”

Valle tends to stay on the football track.

“Right off the bat, you’re looking at a lot of weight,” Valle said about his defensive line. “We calculated their weight and it’s right around 1,000 pounds. Four guys. Just their tenacity and capability, the speed, the work they put in in the offseason, you can really see it out on the field.”

The bottom line is the King Kekaulike football program is in a position to do something it hasn’t done in many years: Be a factor in the MIL.

“As far as continuing to build the program, I think we’re on the right track in sustaining the program and building this thing to get bigger and bigger,” Valle said.

* Robert Collias is at rcollias@mauinews.com.

Saturday’s Result

KWANSEI GAKUIN (JAPAN) 37, KING KEKAULIKE 20

Kwansei Gakuin 7 10 7 13–37

King Kekaulike 7 6 7 0–20

First Quarter

KG–Yuito Ikeda 80 kickoff return (Yuta Matsuno kick), 11:50.

KK–Franco Melgar Martich 44 run (Thor Ventura kick), 2:59

Second Quarter

KG–FG Matsuno 20, 11:50.

KG–Ikeda 5 run from Jin Maeshima (Matsuno kick), 6:35

KK–FG Ventura 42, 4:16

KK–FG Ventura 27, 0:21

Third Quarter

KK–Seth Myer Fernandez 93 punt return (Ventura kick), 11:44.

KG–Ikeda 89 run (Matsuno kick), 11:28.

Fourth Quarter

KG–Maeshima 55 run (Matsuno kick), 3:56.

KG–Ikeda 12 run (kick failed), 0:47.

*****

Na Alii at a glance

2018 record–0-10 overall, 0-8 MIL

Offense–Spread

Defense–4-3

Returning starters–8 offense, 9 defense

*****

MIL Football

2019 SEASON PREVIEWS

Today–King Kekaulike

Tuesday–Kamehameha Maui

Wednesday–Maui High

Thursday–Lahainaluna

Friday–Baldwin

UPCOMING SCHEDULE

Friday’s Game

Baldwin at Kamehameha Maui, 7 p.m.

Saturday’s Games

Lahainaluna at King Kekaulike, 7 p.m.

Maui High at Kauai, 7 p.m.