WAIMEA — For the first time in a half-dozen years, the BIIF will have a new Division I champion. But for Hawaii Prep, everything just seems like business as usual.
Behind a scorching start, the top-seeded and unbeaten Ka Makani (11-0) knocked off six-time defending BIIF champions Kealakehe 10-1 on Tuesday in a D-I semifinal matchup.
With the win, Ka Makani have earned a spot in championship game on Saturday against Waiakea in Waimea. The Warriors beat Hilo 3-2 in the other semifinal. The title tilt is scheduled for 3 p.m.
Regardless of what happens in the championship, Waiakea and Hawaii Prep already have spots reserved in the HHSAA tournament on Oahu, which begins Feb. 15.
The BIIF winner will have a seeded berth in the tourney.
There was little to no drama in Ka Makani’s victory over the reigning champion Waveriders. Hawaii Prep scored four goals within the first 12 minutes, and coasted to the lopsided win, notching the final goal of the mercy rule victory with two minutes remaining in the match.
“Soccer is funny,” Hawaii Prep head coach Rich Braithwaite said. “We could have easily not finished some of those chances and it ends up being a dogfight until the end. But today, we got the first few to go and we just went from there.”
Jake Schneider notched a hat trick to lead Ka Makani, while Toby Balaam scored a pair and added two beautiful assists.
“That was by far the best game Toby has played this season,” Braithwaite said. “The sudden burst of pace down the sideline he provides is incredible.”
Ka Makani bumped up to Division I this year, and it came with some elevated expectations. However, it wasn’t unrealistic to think that Hawaii Prep would thrive under the new classification, especially against Big Island opponents.
The team was already playing out of the BIIF’s top tier — the four-team Red Division — against traditional D-I powers Kealakehe, Waiakea and Hilo, and doing so with resounding success. After the win over the Waveriders, Ka Makani have amassed a 34-1-2 record in BIIF play the last three seasons, also winning the last two D-II state titles.
“We wanted to compete at the D-I level and we knew we could play with them,” Braithwaite said. “But it’s going to be a whole different game on Oahu.”
It was also on the same field in Waimea a season ago that Hawaii Prep snapped Kealakehe’s nearly five-year unbeaten streak in the BIIF with a dominant 6-1 win. That victory, in a way, signaled a changing of the guard among the Big Island’s elite.
“We are peaking right now and it’s at the perfect time going into the championship and the state tournament,” Braithwaite said.
Ilan Naibryf, Chris Whitfield, Chris Chock, David Welch-Keliihoomalu and Kamu Lindsey also found the scoresheet in win.
“This was the biggest game of the year for us,” senior defender Jevon Flippin said. “We have been talking about this game all week. We came out and executed what we needed to accomplish.”
Flippin said some solid music selection from the freshman on the team in the locker room got the team pumped up for the fast start. It surely helped, but it was how loud Ka Makani were on the field that proved to be a major catalyst in the win.
“Our communication was key,” Kamu Lindsey said. “Coming into this game, we tried to make every touch and every run count. In our last game of the season (a 1-0 win over Honokaa) we were a little too high on our horses. I think that was an eye-opener for us.”
Hawaii Prep will look to ride the wave of momentum against Waiakea in the title game. Hawaii Prep took both regular season matchups by a combined score of 10-3.
“Waiakea is a very similar team to us. They like to build out of the back, play in the midfield, play in people’s feet,” Braithwaite said. “I like playing against Waiakea. It’s almost like playing against ourselves. It will end up being a battle of who can maintain possession and finish in the final third.”
Ka Makani have the benefit of some home-cooking for the title game. It was moved from Konawaena to Hawaii Prep’s campus by BIIF officials this week after the field in Kealakekua took a beating last weekend during the girls championship games.
“We are excited,” Braithwaite said. “Not just because it’s a home game, but because this is such a beautiful pitch and to get to play the BIIF finals on such a field is a blessing.
The season is over for the Waveriders (4-6-2), who won’t be heading to the state tournament for the first time since 2011.
Bryson Guanio broke through to score the lone goal for Kealakehe in the 68th minute.
Kamehameha gets top seed at states
Fresh off a thrilling victory in the BIIF Division II championship, the Warriors have more reason to celebrate.
Kamehameha was awarded the top seed for the HHSAA Division II state tournament, which begins Feb. 7 on Oahu. The Warriors will play the winner of Le Jardin and Leilehua.
Hawaii Preparatory Academy — the four-time defending state champions — are unseeded, but begin their state tourney campaign against Nanakuli on Feb. 7.
Makua Lani earned the BIIF’s third and final berth in the state tournament, and will play Radford in their first round game.
The other seeded teams in D-II are ILH winners Sacred Hearts (3), KIF champ Kapaa (2) and the OIA’s top squad, Kailua (4).
On the Division I side, three-time BIIF champion Hilo will be the No. 3 seed, playing the winner of Moanalua and a to be determined second place ILH squad.
BIIF runner-up Konawaena will host a first-round game against Pearl