UH-Hilo men’s soccer preview: Playing home free, Hilo alum Tolentino-Perry returns from D-I

  • San Jose State photo Kalei Tolentino-Perry has traded the blue and yellow of San Jose State (and Hilo High) in for UH-Hilo’s red and black.

In many ways, home is just like former two-sport Hilo High standout Kalei Tolentino-Perry left it.

The Vikings’ football team is still overpowering opponents, while boys soccer continues to fall just short of championship glory.

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“It’s funny,” Tolentino-Perry said at UH-Hilo, his newest home. “Everything is still the same, but when I was away I seemed to cherish it so much more.”

He’s back, not because he couldn’t prove he belonged in Division I soccer, but because he never truly felt like San Jose State belonged to him.

Too many people?

“Too many everything,” he said. “Couldn’t handle; I didn’t like the place at all.”

“I was super thankful for my experience of playing Division I soccer and I learned a lot,” Tolentino-Perry said. “I felt for a lot of island people, they get homesick and they realize they are not in a place they feel comfortable with.

“I’m just an island boy. I decided coming home and still doing what I love wouldn’t hurt at all.”

The junior forward’s presence certainly won’t do anything but help the Vulcans’ men’s soccer program, which hasn’t finished with a winning record in more than a decade and is in need of scoring punch after losing Matt Wilkinson. The Englishman tied a program-record last season with 10 goals – five on penalty kicks – representing 62.5% of the goal production.

“At the college level, (10 goals) is a lot,” Tolentino-Perry said. “I told myself I want to shoot for the stars and I want to try and make that record, and hopefully even make the first-team (all-Pacific West Conference). I have a lot of things I want to accomplish.”

It can be cliche to say a college team has a new look, but UHH will truly fit the definition when coach Paul Regrutto begins his season Wednesday at Cal State San Marcos. Regrutto brought in 26 new players to mesh with 10 returnees. The new faces include eight transfers, the most recognizable being Tolentino-Perry, who played in all 21 matches at San Jose last season, starting 18 and scoring three goals.

“He really did just kind of fall into my lap,” Regrutto said, “but when he wants to come home, you’re saying to yourself, is this the type of kid you want to have come home? Absolutely, yes.

“Not just because of the special kind of player he is, but also because of the kind of high-character person he is.”

Tolentino-Perry, the 2016 BIIF Offensive Player of the Year in football and a two-time all-BIIF selection in soccer, said he received the full blessing of Spartans’ coach Simon Tobin to find another home. Once he entered the NCAA transfer portal, it came down to Chaminade and UHH, and Tolentino-Perry enjoyed talking to each coach holding leverage in his hand.

“It’s good to be wanted, but a lot of responsibility comes with that as well. I need to prove I can play,” he said.

Tolentino-Perry, who attended Keaau’s Nawahiokalani‘opu‘u, the Hawaiian immersion program of Hilo High, looks noticeably stronger than during his playing days with the Vikings, and he said his soccer IQ has added similar strength.

“I do put pressure on myself, but at the same time, I want to have fun,” he said. “Every game is a competition, no matter what division it is. Now that I’m home, I feel there is a lot of weight on my shoulders.”

Regrutto doesn’t want any player worrying about carrying a heavy burden, priding himself on running an “anti-superstar system,” one where everyone has to do their job.

“It will be a lot of scoring by committee,” he said. “We’re not leaning on anybody really heavy.”

Senior midfielder Jorge Martinez is one player he felt flew under the radar last season, playing in Wilkinson’s shadow even though he had a hand in drawing penalty kicks.

UHH will have to play catch-up on a road trip that also includes matches at UC San Diego and Cal State Pomona. All of the Vuls’ first three California Collegiate Athletic Association opponents have played at least four matches. UC San Diego is 4-0 and Pomona is the two-time defending West Region champion.

“If I didn’t think we had the potential to be one of the best teams in the West Region, I would have scheduled an easier schedule,” Regrutto said.

That’s impressive talk from the coach of a program that has tasted little in the way of on-field success of late. UHH went 4-12 in 2018, an improvement of two wins from the previous year.

“Can you recruit the right type of players (here)? Yes,” Regrutto said. “Is there support from the administration? Yes.

“Facilities are in the works, and things are moving in the right direction. I’m not putting a cap on what I think we are capable of achieving.”

With a bit of gamesmanship in mind, he’s hesitant to talk about the specific roles of his new players, many of whom will fill starting positions.

In addition to Martinez (15 starts last season), two other top returnees are sophomore midfield/fullback Gabriel Contreras (12) and senior midfielder Robert George (10).

Kamehameha-Hawaii alum Jameson Sato, the 2018 BIIF Division II player of the year, transferred from Texas Permian Basin, but the goalkeeper starts the season still recovering from knee surgery.

For Tolentino-Perry, home is much like he left it, but a winning UHH men’s soccer program is a change he can foresee.

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“If coach can pull out all the special attributes that we have and bring us together,” Tolentino-Perry said, “then I think we can have a very special team.

“In the long run, I think coach has us on the right path.”

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