The Kona Crush under-17 girls squad recently returned from the mainland with bags significantly heavier than when they left — because they had some big-time hardware to bring home.
The Crush girls went a combined 9-0 at a pair of top mainland tournaments, outscoring opponents by a combined total of 32-3 and catching the eyes of some college scouts.
“This trip allowed us to make a name for soccer within our club and the Big Island,” team captain Riley Blaber said. “We had an amazing time doing so.”
Fellow Crush captain Audrey Weir echoed those sentiments.
“It was amazing opportunity for us to grow closer, as well as grow as individual players” Weir said. “We hope to continue showcasing well for our home and our club.”
In his decade-plus of being around high-level soccer in Hawaii, Kona Crush Soccer Academy director of coaching Vinny La Porta hadn’t quite seen anything like the girls’ performance.
“This trip was the culmination of years of work,” La Porta said. “For me personally, this trip was the most rewarding and enjoyable moment of my coaching career on the girls side. I’m so proud of this group, and everyone else in this player pool that didn’t travel but trained with this group to prepare us and develop themselves. It was a total group effort that stretches all the way through so many assistant coaches, players, families working together.”
The trip started out at Stanford University for the school’s ID Camp. La Porta said there were about 200 players in the camp and at the end, there was an invite-only all-star game. Five Crush-linked players — Caiya Hanks, Lily Hatanaka, Avrie Salinas-Gouveia, Nanea Wong and Kastle Lyman — got the call for the exclusive game. La Porta noted that Wong and Lyman also play for Hawaii Rush, but were pulling double-duty on the Crush’s travel roster.
From there, the team moved on to the Davis Legacy Showcase. The team didn’t know exactly what to expect, but Caiya Hanks — who plays her high school soccer at Konawaena — quickly eased the nerves for the Kona girls. Hanks netted six goals in the opening contest on the way to a 7-1 victory, setting the standard for the squad.
“She rose to another level,” La Porta said, also noting the contributions of Michelle Gonzalez, which included plenty of play-making.
The team won the tourney in a thrilling final, edging Beach FC (Calif.) on penalty kicks. Goalkeeper Mia Tanioka made a pair of saves and Avrie Salinas-Gouveia netted the winning PK.
“For the PKs I have a specific technique I ask of them to use to handle their emotions. It’s called ‘Samurai Breath,’ which a sports psych mentor of mine from Stanford University showed me,” La Porta said. “It calms the body down and focuses on pushing away the pressures to just focus on the ball, the goal and successful thoughts. It worked; we were way more calm in the shootout and won.”
It was more of the same as the Crushers moved on to the Pleasanton Rage Showcase, where they went undefeated.
But as much as the play on the field had La Porta excited, what he said was shocking was the number of coaches who came up and talked to him about being interested in offering his players next-level opportunities, which is ultimately what the trip was about. It’s hard to get the attention of school’s while living on a rock in the Pacific Ocean. Thoroughly dominating at a pair of mainland tournaments will turn some heads.
“It’s no longer ‘which school will accept me into their team?’ It is ‘which team do I want to accept the invite from.’ This is a huge step forward for these girls in their journeys to gain a quality collegiate education and life through their love of academics and soccer combined.”
The full Crush roster consisted of Catie Moynahan, Averie Salinas-Gouveia, Finesity Salinas-Gouveia, Audrey Weir (captain), Caiya Hanks (captain), Michelle Gonzalez, Lily Hatanaka, Riley Blaber (captain), Kastle Lyman, Nanea Wong-Yuen, Mohala Kalauli, Mia Tanioka, Ciara Blaber, Kii Takata, Maila Brost, Sydni Abarcar and Alianna West-Rodrigues.
All of the girls wanted to chime in on the accomplishment.
Malia Brost called it “a life and game changing experience for all of us.”
Lily Hatanaka said, “We showed the mainland what Big Island girls can do.”
“This is our last hurrah with Vinny,” Michelle Gonzalez added, referring to La Porta moving on from the club later this year.
“We had a very great experience and are very glad we got the opportunity to showcase what island girls can do,” Avrie Salinas-Gouveia said. “Now we’re known!”
La Porta sees a brilliant future in the group, translating the trip’s success into further accomplishments.
“These girls absolutely dominated,” La Porta said. “No doubt in my mind we could see a professional player emerge from this group, and with multiple colleges contacting us, now they are all researching their academic futures with excitement and confidence.”
Hanks gets huge honor, invited to National Training Camp
Kona Crush player and Konawaena student-athlete Caiya Hanks was one of just 16 players selected to the 2019 id2 National Selection girls roster. She, along with her teammates, will represent the id2 side at the ECNL/id2 National Training Camp. The prestigious, five-day selection camp started this week at the University of Portland.
Hanks’ team will compete alongside about 90 other players born in 2004-06 for the Elite Clubs National League portion of the camp. They will also take in off-the-field presentations and learn from the nation’s top youth coaches. All costs – including airfare, lodging, meals and training gear – are covered by US Club Soccer and Nike for the id2 competitors.
The camp is sanctioned as an Olympic Development Program by U.S. Soccer and the U.S. Olympic Committee. Players from all over the country were considered for invitations, regardless of U.S. Soccer affiliation.