Kaila Ambrosio started playing soccer at the age of 4, and since then she only remembers slowing down to take the occasional break.
During stoppage time these days she likes to head to Leleiwi Beach Park while she still can. Ambrosio’s future is bright – literally – but also a tad dry.
“I’m trying to go to the beach as much as possible since I’m moving to the desert,” Ambrosio said.
The recent Kamehameha graduate has been promised to the University of Las Vegas, Nevada for a while now, and suddenly the opening of Rebels soccer training camp is only two months away. Until then, between training sessions, Ambrosio can soak in the surf and bask in the warm memories of not only the Warriors’ improbable BIIF Division II championship repeat but also the fruits of her unbreakable labor.
Ambrosio is the Player of the Year as selected by the league coaches, the Hawaii Tribune-Herald and West Hawaii Today.
“I’m pretty excited,” said Ambrosio, at first caught off guard about being contacted for an interview. “This is a good thing. It’s a surprise because it was a long season, and I didn’t think I’d be one of the best players.”
Beyond scoring a team-high 15 goals, the center midfielder was undoubtedly the heart and soul of the league champion.
“A gamechanger every time she touched the ball,” coach Josh Woodard said.
Ambrosio’s impact was never more evident than during the BIIF final against Hawaii Prep. With a minute remaining and Ka Makani protecting a 2-1 lead, Ambrosio buried the equalizer with a beautiful high-arching free kick that cleared the goalkeeper’s hands from about 35 yards out from the right flank. Kamehameha won 3-2 in overtime.
“I remember I had an opportunity earlier in the second half and I missed it,” she said. “I didn’t want to miss this one. I knew it was now or never.
“I was pretty sure that I was going to have to (play well) if we were going to win.”
Of course, she said her impact also was evident a week later as HPA stormed back to avenge that loss, winning its sixth consecutive state title with a 4-0 win against Kamehameha.
“I think it was a disconnect,” Ambrosio said. “I wasn’t felling well, and I knew if I didn’t give 110 percent … when I’m down my team plays to my level. Not that the loss was all my fault.”
A member of Surf Soccer Club Big Island – her mom, Misty, is in charge – Ambrosio is the Warriors’ first Player of the Year since Kekai Wong Yuen in 2016, breaking the a two-year run by HPA’s Emi Higgins.
Higgins missed Ka Makani’s first eight games last season, but she bounced back strong and garners an all-BIIF selection for a fourth time, headlining a horde of eight HPA players on the first team. Joining Higgins are Malia Brost and Jenna Perry – the co-Most Outstanding Players of HHSAA tournament – as well as Angela Cipriano, Bella Police, Kahele Walsh, Alianna West and goalkeeper Maia Mills. Perry and Mills, juniors during the 2019 season, could be on track to become four-time honorees, and Police, a junior-to-be, makes the list for a second time.
Kamehameha’s Nanea Wong Yuen, Saige DeMotta and Joey Ann Cootey debut on the first team, and Makua Lani’s Tia Lurbiecki is honored for a second time.
Ambrosio’s first two all-BIIF selections came at center back, the position that UNLV recruited her to play.
“The fun part for me was watching her grow the past four years,” Woodard said. “She did anything I wanted her to do. I put her at forward (last season) and she scored two goals and we beat Konawaena.”
Woodard moved Ambrosio up to center mid as a senior to help fill the creative offensive void left by the departure of Hevani Haunga, a 2018 graduate who soon will reunite with Ambrosio.
Haunga played in 14 games with the Rebels in 2018, netting a goal.
“Hevani told me I did a pretty good job filling her shoes,” Ambrosio said.
Though she’s more than ready to take on more of a defensive role in college.
“I’m very aggressive and that’s usually what helps me in different situations,” she said. “Being in the midfield can be stressful, but I’m used to taking it on and trying to make connecting passes. I think that same mentality helps you become a leader.”
Tia Lurbiecki Makua Lani Forward
Nanea Wong Yuen Kamehameha Forward
Emi Higgins HPA Forward
Angela Cipriano, HPA Forward
Kaila Ambrosio Kamehameha Midfielder
Jenna Perry HPA Midfielder
Malia Brost HPA Midfielder
Bella Police HPA Midfielder
Joey Ann Cootey Kamehameha Defense
Kahele Walsh HPA Defense
Alianna West HPA Defense
Saige DeMotta Kamehameha Defense
Maia Mills HPA Goalkeeper
Player of the Year
Kaila Ambrosio, Kamehameha
Coach of the Year
Joshua Woodard, Kamehameha
HPA: Zoe Ganley, Ruby Helmuth, Zoe Ganley
Kamehameha: Chenoa Frederick, Roycie Faye, Nanea Delostrico, Jaden Dinkel, Kastle Lyman, Raeshalyn Respicio
Makua Lani: linahe Beatty, Mara Duarte, Monilaite Moniati
Honokaa: Tasha Ohta, Sydni Abacar, Carolee Hanks