Waiakea’s BIIF boys soccer championship celebration, the program’s first since 2006, was all of 10 minutes old when coach David Urakami emerged from the hugging, high-fives and hand shakes.
In fielding a query about John Grover’s heroics, Urakami had a question of his own: “Player of the year?”
Yes. Most definitely, yes.
It took a while – blame the Tribune-Herald, not the coaches – but their job was made all the easier by Grover’s showstopping performance in the BIIF final against Hilo, the perfect summit to his upward high school career. If Grover wasn’t already the Division I player of the year when the Warriors were trailing 1-0 with about 13 minutes remaining in the February match, the senior certainly was some 30 minutes later after he’d tallied the tying and go-ahead goals, then the golden goal in double overtime. All while battling cramps and switching from fullback to midfield.
“Very honored, lots of hard work involved, individually and especially as a team,” said Grover, a soon-to-be UH-Hilo Vulcan. “Honestly, before even high school started, from freshman year we started to turn around the team, we started playing more our style. We tried to get winning teams.”
Before Grover and Kai Biegler, who also made all-BIIF and garnered a player of the year vote, arrived at Waiakea High as freshmen in 2017, Warriors boys soccer had become an also-ran, at one point losing to Hilo in the semifinals five consecutive years. In 2018, Waiakea finally beat Hilo to break a six-year HHSAA tournament drought.
Grover traces the shift to the junior varsity season his freshman year, when he helped steer the Warriors away from playing boom ball.
“We totally changed the way we played. Waiakea used to be hit it up to your fast players and hopefully you can score,” he said. “We actually decided to possess the ball and manipulate where the other players were and get it in the right spot, so that we control the game and control where we wanted the ball to go and hopefully control the score, too. Stay aggressive and go for it.”
Urakami, the coach of the year, called Grover his go-to player since he first touched the pitch as a freshman, and he says Grover turned it up a notch at the state tournament, where the Warriors reached the semifinals for the first time since 1999.
“I am honored to be part of John’s legacy building,” Urakami said. “What he did in the BIIF final will be talked about for years to come.”
Of course, even if a hat trick amounts to the stuff of legends, it can get lost in a pandemic.
“We’ve been in quarantine, so I really haven’t been able to discuss it much,” Grover said. “I don’t know how I’d describe it.”
Grover and Biegler are joined on the all-BIIF team by teammates Colby Kerr, Riley Tamanaha and Javier Cuevas, Hilo’s Logan Mizuba, Keanu Keolanui, Kasen Mehau, Urban Halpern and Jyson Breitbarth, and Kealakehe’s Alex Bell, Nathan Weir and Zachary Aderinto. Breitbarth and Aderinto shared the nod at goalkeeper. Tamanaha and Biegler are two-time selections, while Grover makes the list for a third time. He’s quick to heap praise on others, Cuevas and Biegler in particular, for helping the Warriors hoist the title.
How much is Grover willing to share the spotlight? Who else credits their little sister, Faith Grover will soon be a freshman at Waiakea, for helping them the most?
“Just working out with me and always throwing balls to me,” he said.
And to think, it was only by chance that Grove ever took up soccer in the first place and ended up at Waiakea. From kindergarten through the eighth grade, he attended Christian Liberty, which had strong soccer teams when he was in elementary school, last reaching the BIIF Division II final when he was a six-grader. As the Canefire’s core group of players grew thinner there were questions about the program’s viability, and it discontinued for two seasons.
So Grover, who took up soccer as a first-grader almost by mistake, ended up at Waiakea.
“My first sport was supposed to be baseball,” he said. “My dad’s family is a big on baseball, and I as going to play baseball at Shipman Park, signed up and everything. I showed up to Shipman and no one was there. I found out later the team dissolved.
“Next available sport was soccer, so I took up soccer and I haven’t stopped playing since.”
If and when COVID-19 allows, his next match will come with the Vulcans. He signed with UHH after considering a few junior college options and plans to study chemistry.
While the end to his senior season was something out of a dream, like so many high schoolers, the past few months have been the opposite.
“It’s been pretty disappointing, not having graduation is probably the biggest disappointment,” he said. “It’s all so weird, just trying to make the most of it.
“Just trying to stay in shape for UHH, keep touches on the ball. I really want to do well there.”
All-BIIF Division I
Kai Biegler Waiakea Forward
Logan Mizuba Hilo Forward
Riley Tamanaha Waiakea Midfield
Javier Cuevas Waiakea Midfield
Keanu Keolanui Hilo Midfield
Kasen Mehau Hilo Midfield
John Grover Waiakea Fullback
Colby Kerr Waiakea Fullback
Urban Halpern Hilo Fullback
Nathan Weir Kealakehe Fullback
Jyson Breitbarth Hilo Goalkeeper
Zachary Aderinto Kealakehe Goalkeeper
Alex Bell Kealakehe Utility
Hilo: Haku Tolentino-Perry, Kainalu Lewis, Michael DeCoito, Masila Siva
Kealakehe: TJ Arakawa, Adam Foster, Taiyo Thom
Waiakea: Kyson Yamashiro, Kālaʻe Woods, Chase Kotomori, Kadin Hatakenaka