HONOLULU — Kamehameha had been the thorn in Hawaii Prep’s side this season — the team that Ka Makani just couldn’t shake.
That frustration is finally over.
Despite the Warriors battling back from two separate one-goal deficits, Ka Makani finally managed to put their Big Island rivals away for good on the big stage, using a game-winner from Jordan Zarate early in the second half to come away with a 3-2 win and a record fifth consecutive HHSAA Division II state title on Saturday on Oahu.
“At times this wasn’t the prettiest game, and both teams made some mistakes in the first half, but we were able to make the adjustments we needed,” said Hawaii Prep head coach Steve Perry. “At the high school level this game isn’t really about X’s and O’s. It is about building relationships and teamwork, and I think this year we were able to start the best 11 in my time here. Every position had talent.”
The victory also avenges Hawaii Prep’s penalty kick loss to Kamehameha in the BIIF title game, which ended a streak of eight league titles.
“I guess if we had to make a choice of one or the other then we chose right,” Perry said with a laugh. “After that loss to Kamehameha, I think we had our best practice of the season. We knew then that this team was not going to settle for anything less than a 100 percent effort.”
Zarate — who has battled through injuries during her stellar prep career — has a penchant for showing up in the big spots, especially against the Warriors.
She also scored the winner two years ago in Ka Makani’s 1-0 win over Kamehameha.
Zarate plays in the midfield and has not necessarily been in the spotlight as a goal-scorer. But all season, Ka Makani head coach Steve Perry has raved about his senior standout’s defensive prowess and soccer IQ.
“She was second guessing herself back in October because it is hard for such a young girl to come back from two surgeries. It is easy to just walk away,” Perry said. “The team supported her and helped her get back out there. From the beginning of the season to now she got better and she was a force this entire week. It meant a lot to her to be out on the field.”
Emi Higgins also has a reputation for rising up in the postseason. The junior had seven shots on goal and netted a first-half strike. She’s part of the young core that will be returning next year for Ka Makani.
When asked on the OC16 broadcast about the possibility of making it six in-a-row next season, Higgins just responded with a laugh.
“We like to knock on wood, a lot,” Higgins said.
Hawaii Prep managed to win their record setting fifth straight title from an unseeded position, something that has only been done once at the Division II level. The team’s newest banner broke a tie with Punahou, the only other girls program to win four straight titles at the state level in either division. The Buffanblu accomplished the feat from 1983-86.
“I am happy to get this for the seniors and the seniors before them,” Higgins said. “We tried not to focus on it all season, but now that the season is over I am happy that it is five and not four.”
Unlike the BIIF championship, there was no shortage of offense with a state title on the line, especially in the first half, with Kamehameha and Hawaii Prep combining for four goals in the first 25 minutes.
Hawaii Prep has started fast in every game of the tournament this year. It took a little bit longer for Ka Makani to score against Kamehameha, but not by much with the first goal coming in the 11th minute when Teah Van Bergen took a pass down the right flank and sent a cross into an uncontested Higgins inside the 18.
It was the first of three one goal leads in the closely-contested match between the Big Island schools. Despite dropping the BIIF title game to the Warriors, Ka Makani never trailed the Warriors this season, winning the regular season matchup 4-1 and playing even for 100 minutes in the league championship until falling on PKs.
But forever persistent, the Warriors answered back from their first deficit of the game four minutes later off a free kick by Kaila Ambrosio. The ball hit the crossbar and bounced off Ka Makani keeper Maia Mills before crossing the goal line.
The 23rd minute produced a Hawaii Prep goal off a Higgins free kick. Instead of shooting, Higgins surprised the Warriors’ defense with a pass on a set play to Kahele Walsh, who snuck past Kamehameha’s line for an easy tap-in.
“Emi is such a threat on the long kicks so everyone laid back thinking a bomb was coming,” Perry said. “She sent a low screamer into the box and it was a great run up and tip-in by Kahele. It was great timing.”
But Kamehameha answered back again, this time in less than a minute when Hiilei Wong Yuen finished off the quick strike with a well-placed, heavy-footer past a diving Mills.
Zarate’s goal would be the only score in the second half. It came off a Mari Camacho corner kick.