Being a high-end private school on a hill and all, Hawaii Prep is talked about a little differently than other schools.
That’s OK. Be it in Division I or Division II, Ka Makani keep pressing on, and this time it’s Conor Hunt who has the last word.
“When I was looking at Day 1 of practice,” he said, “if you would have asked me if we were a state contender, I would have said no way.”
He wasn’t alone, but HPA went on to claim its fifth consecutive BIIF boys soccer title and fourth state crown in five seasons.
“It’s great to win states after some people called it a rebuilding year,” Hunt said. “All these comments about HPA soccer going down to Division II, and we were just glad to prove them all wrong.”
The would-be soccer lifer took a detour before his sophomore year, transferring to HPA from Kauai and taking up place-kicking on the football team. He’s gearing up to play at Georgetown after signing with the Football Championship Subdivision school earlier this year, so he made sure to soak in every last second during an emotional state soccer final win against Kapaa.
Along with the memories and “crazy life lessons,” Hunt has something else to show for his last soccer hurrah: BIIF Division II player of the year, as voted by the coaches.
“Truly blessed,” Hunt said, “I’m just really the product of a lot of people who put their time and energy to helping make me a better player and better student.”
In some ways, Hunt always was the next in line. He follows in the footsteps of Sihkea Jim (2019, Jake Schneider (2018), Braden Kojima (2017) and Justin Perry (2016) as HPA players of the year.
But Hunt stands out in a crowd, said James Berry, HPA’s coach of the year.
“I’ve been coaching competitive soccer now for 23 years,” he said. “In all that time there have been only a handful of players that I’ve coached who are able to handle pressure like Conor. His calm demeanor, coupled with technical skills, made him a huge asset. He will be very hard to replace – both on and off the field – in our program.”
Hunt is all-BIIF for the second time after making it in D-I last season on HPA’s star-studded team, and six of his teammates are first-timers: Zane Willman, Grayson Phillips, Daniel Gayoso, Noah Balaam, Noah Furchner and Noah Condon. League runner-up Makua Lani is represented by Isaiah Easley, a two-time selection, and first-timers Timmy Catanzaro and Stevan Perrino. Prolific Kamehameha striker Buddy Betts is a three-time selection, Kohala’s Shiloh Perez holds down a spot for the second year in a row and Konawaena’s D’Marco Mireles makes his first appearance on the list.
One of the reason others talk a little differently about Ka Makani is the false perception, Berry said, that they recruit for soccer. No matter how Phillips, who moved from the mainland and is the son of the head master, or Gayoso, a Spanish exchange student, made it to Waimea for their senior seasons, HPA still has to blend everyone together and make it work.
“This last year was the most movie-like team I’ve been apart of,” Hunt said. “It’s been surreal being with this team with how well we bonded over time.”
Willman played well enough at goalkeeper to almost earn enough votes to be co-player of the year, Hunt praised Phillips for seamlessly stepping in to take a lead role on the defense and he said Gayoso led the team in goals. Hunt did a little bit of everything. He scored twice in the 3-1 win in the BIIF final and once in the 2-0 state title win, earning tournament most outstanding player.
“It was going to be a really big transformation (this year), and I didn’t do it by myself,” Hunt said.
Balaam’s got next, Hunt said: “(The BIIF) better get ready to defend him.”
Like all college football players, Hunt is in wait-and-see mode during the COVID-19 pandemic, but he’s optimistic he’ll be able to report to training camp July 30. To prepare, he said he’s been working out three times a day, making regular trips to HPA’s field to kick.
And, yes, he knows he’s in for another big transformation. Hunt won’t be the big man on campus in Washington, D.C., especially as a kicker.
“One thigh I learned playing soccer, is there are two drastically different ways to play,” Hunt said. “One way is disciplined and another is doing your own thing. I found out that if I’m drumming to my own beat, if I’m doing my own thing, that things will work out and that’s how I can approach kicking. I have my own type of swag to the game, and I’ll probably get hazed a little bit (at Georgetown), but it will come full circle, and there is no place I’d rather be.”
Actually, one place is close. Until it’s beaten on the soccer field when it counts, HPA, in this case Hunt, has the last word.
“It’s been everything, especially the community, I’ve never seen another place like it and I wouldn’t want any other place,” he said. “This Waimea hilltop, there are some great people here.”
Boys Division II
Isaiah Easley Makua Lani Forward
Buddy Betts Kamehameha Forward
Noah Balaam Midfield HPA
Conor Hunt HPA Midfield
Noah Furchner HPA Midfield
Shiloh Perez Kohala Midfield
D’Marco Mireles Konawaena Midfield
Noah Condon Fullback HPA
Grayson Phillips Fullback, HPA
Timmy Catanzaro Makua Lani Fullback
Stevan Perrino Makua Lani Fullback
Daniel Gayoso HPA Utility
Zane Willman HPA Goalkeeper
Christian Liberty: Tim Costales, Jerry Becker
Honokaa: Malachi Pesta, Koa Miche, Kelson Pedro, Elijah Aguiar
Kamehameha: Logan Waltjen, Ethan Shimabukuro, Elijah Dinkel, Cuinn Cariaga
Konawaena: Travis Ichishita, Carson Nishida, Joseph Roback
Hawaii Prep: Dominick DiDonato
Ka’u: James Grimes, Henry Miranda
Kohala: Justus Ventura
Makua Lani: Kai Van Bergan, Josh Luth, Kaipono Benson, Kala’e Mills