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Kapa’a Warriors Moving on up

Thursday, July 28, 2022 | By Nick Abramo

Coach Mike Tresler used the words “it’s official” on Monday when discussing what division his Kapa’a Warriors will be playing in at the state level this fall.

According to Tresler, Kapa’a will go to war in Division I, the state’s middle tier, and there are no ifs, ands or buts about it.

Most likely, the more accurate statement is the Warriors’ move up to D-I is “all but official.” That’s because the HHSAA football committee doesn’t require leagues to declare their teams for a certain division until the end of August and no leagues have made declarations yet.

“That’s what I’ve been hearing all summer, that Kapa’a will declare for D-I and that the two other KIF teams (Kauai and Waimea) will declare for Division II,” said Harold Tanaka, the Farrington athletic director who is a member of the HHSAA football committee.

The news that Kapa’a was likely headed up a division was first reported June 29.

When that move becomes 100 percent concrete, it will mean that the Warriors also qualify for the D-I state tournament since they are the only KIF team in that classification.

Kapa’a is coming off perhaps its most historic season, becoming the first KIF squad to win the state tournament at any level. And the Warriors were dominant in winning the league title and then dispatching Hawaii Prep 51-0 and Kamehameha-Maui 61-7 for the D-II state championship.

Primed to see how they can do at the higher level at states, the Warriors will get an early indication of where they stand on the Hawaii football ladder on Aug. 6 and Aug. 13. The three-time defending KIF champs did not schedule any bottom feeders for non-league contests. As a matter of fact, they went right to the cream of the various crops.

Interestingly enough, the Aug. 6 matchup is against defending OIA D-I champion Aiea at the Radford High field. And then comes a colossal test — against the winningest program in the state and the 2021 Open Division state runner-up Saint Louis on Kauai at the Warriors’ home field.

“Aiea is a really good ball club,” Tresler said. “They’ve got good size, a good running game and they’re definitely putting in the time on 7-on-7s, so this will be a real challenge. We play Saint Louis and hopefully we can stay healthy. It will be a good experience and a huge challenge.”

The Warriors had also scheduled a scrimmage against Mililani — an Open Division state semifinalist a year ago — at Kapa’a for this week, but that matchup was canceled.

“It’s going really well, we’ve been getting a lot of work in, and things are really positive so far,” Tresler said.” We were excited for a scrimmage against Mililani, but they couldn’t make the flights happen.”

Like Lahainaluna tried and failed to do a year ago, Kapaa is aiming at a D-I state title one season after taking the koa trophy in D-II.

“That’s what our goal is — to win a state championship, and these are some big first steps,” Tresler said. “Moving up to D-I is a big step, but that’s our goal. We want to win it.”

Solomone Malafu, a senior linebacker and running back who had an immense performance in last year’s state championship game, is back as one of the team’s captains. In that 2021 finale, he scored four TDs on only four runs from scrimmage and six 2-point conversions while rushing for 152 yards. On defense, he had an interception, three tackles for losses among his five stops, and a pass breakup.

“We need for him to have a great year,” Tresler said about Malafu, who at last check had offers from 12 D-I FBS colleges, including UCLA, Arizona and Cal.

Among the many other top returnees for the Warriors are offensive linemen Koa Kanakaole, Lono Aki (6 feet, 4 inches, 400 pounds), wide receiver Canaan Coleman, quarterback Kapono Na-o, defensive backs, Connor Kitamura and Bruno Like, and defensive back Jayden Yamashita.

Just because KIF opponents Kauai and Waimea are classified in D-II doesn’t mean Kapa’a won’t be tested in the three league games it plays against both the Red Raiders and Menehunes. The familiarity of seeing those two rivals that many times year in and year out breeds some intense competition.

And although it’s a small island, KIF teams have done really well in state tournaments. The three schools combined are 18-22 in 40 state tournament games, including a 15-16 mark in state D-II matchups and a 3-5 record at the top (D-I before 2016) level. 

In D-II, Kapa’a was knocking on the state championship door quite a bit before finally breaking through in ’21, having reached the title game four times — in 2015, 2016, 2018 and 2019.

In addition, the island has produced some solid results against top-level Oahu teams. In 1994 under coach Jon Kobayashi, Waimea defeated state power Punahou in an early-season nonleague game at Hanapepe Stadium. In a Thursday phone call, Kobayashi also recalled being a player for Waimea in a 1984 game at Hanapepe Stadium in which the Menehunes lost a 13-12 decision to heavily favored Kamehameha.

And Tresler knows a little something about being the little guy on the block. After graduating form Kauai High, he defied the odds by earning All-Western Athletic Conference honors twice in the late 1980s after walking on to Bob Wagner’s University of Hawaii squad as an undersized defensive back.

“We’ve got this (D-I) opportunity and we always love the challenges,” Tresler said.

And with mighty Saint Louis on the schedule with its seven top-tier state championships since 1999 and 14 Oahu Prep Bowl titles from 1973 to 1998, that is an understatement.

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