Is Kapa‘a The Next KIF Dynasty?

A common sports adage, both logical and difficult to prove, is that defending a title is even harder than winning it for the first time. With his team hoping to pull off a back-to-back run as KIF football champions, Kapa‘a High head coach Kelii Morgado senses that to be true.

“Absolutely. That proverbial ‘target on your back’ is different than the ‘monkey on your back’ as challengers,” he says.

Kapa‘a enters the 2012 KIF football season as defending champions for the first time in 22 years. After seeing Waimea and Kaua‘i run off championship dynasties since the Warriors’ last title in 1989, they have finally traded in the monkey for the target. Their development has been really fun to watch, having come so close in 2010 and then entering 2011 with a veteran team that had been steadily improving. It all came to fruition when sophomore kicker Jonathan Paleka nailed a 27-yard field goal in the closing seconds for a 17-14 win over Waimea, ending the 22-year drought.

Now, after Morgado took his team to a league title and very nearly an appearance in the Division II state championship game, they ready themselves to do it all over again. Kapa‘a won both of its out-of-conference preseason games over Kalani and Kamehameha-Maui, putting it at 2-0 entering league play.

“Our preseason games have shown me two things,” the coach says. “One is that we have a lot of rookies in our ranks who make rookie-caliber mistakes. We are not a very sharp team right now. The good news is that those mistakes can be addressed.”

Though the target on their backs may create a different mind set for the two teams who are hoping to knock them off the pedestal, the Warriors also view themselves differently than they did less than a year ago.

“We are now a Kapa‘a team with faith in each other, belief in our system and a will to win,” Morgado says. “That is a result of surviving the gauntlet we fought through last season and ultimately found success. This intangible is impossible to teach. You need to live through it to find it in your arsenal, and we have it. Now we just need to work on our fundamentals to become more of a viable threat in the KIF.”

Morgado will be looking to his returning players to maintain that attitude of belief. Defensively, Una Masaniai and Dustyn DeSilva lead the Warriors’ signature unit, while Kaikea Sonoda, Reese Hicks-Whetsel, Maka Ah Loo, Vance Kamibayashi and Holden Prem are the vets on the offensive side of the ball.

“They survived the gauntlet last season, they lived it, and their experience allows them to lead their teammates this year,” Morgado says.

Kapa‘a’s opponent in last season’s memorable KIF playoff game is now the team that hasn’t tasted a league title for the longest current stretch. Waimea made major improvements in 2011 and will be ready again to compete for what was commonplace in the 1990s, when now athletic director Jon Kobayashi coached the Menehune to 10 straight championships from 1993 to 2002. Waimea went 4-2 in the 2011 regular season, but fell in that playoff heartbreaker. Former Waimea standout Kealii Aguiar, who also played defensive line for UH and the Hawaiian Islanders, has been trying to instill a winning attitude on the West Side. His team responded with its best record in years and learned how to close out victories.

Waimea enters KIF play with a 1-1 record, having beaten Honokaa after a tight loss to Waiakea in the opener.

It was eight straight titles for the Kaua‘i Red Raiders before last season, but a young team and a new coaching staff resulted in some early growing pains. Kaua‘i won just one league game, but played much more competitively than the record indicated, especially as the season progressed. Now head coach Corey Aguano has had some time to acclimate himself to his team, and the Raiders should have an explosive offensive unit led by quarterback Trey Aguano and running back Waika Alapai.

The 2011 season was one of the most competitive the KIF has experienced in quite a while, and Morgado doesn’t expect the league’s competitiveness to change any time soon.

“I strongly believe that the days of one team dominating the KIF for long periods of time is over,” he says. “The coaching today is far better than it was in the ’90s and 2000s. This season is wide open for any team to win the championship. If Kapa‘a hopes to repeat as champions, we need to take advantage of every day and make each practice count.”

2012 KIF Football Schedule

Friday, Aug. 31 – Kaua‘i vs. Waimea, 7:30 p.m., Vidinha Stadium (Kaua‘i JV vs. Kapa‘a JV, 5 p.m.)

Friday, Sept. 7 – Kapa‘a vs. Kaua‘i, 7:30 p.m., Vidinha Stadium (JV, 5 p.m.)

Friday, Sept. 14 – Waimea vs. Kapa‘a, 7:30 p.m., Hanapepe Stadium

Saturday, Sept. 22 – Waimea vs. Kaua‘i, 4:30 p.m., Hanapepe Stadium

Saturday, Sept. 29 – Kaua‘i vs. Kapa‘a, 4:30 p.m., Vidinha Stadium (JV, 2 p.m.)

Saturday, Oct. 6 – Kapa‘a vs. Waimea, 3 p.m., Vidinha Stadium (Kapaa JV vs. Kauai JV, noon)

Saturday, Oct. 13 – Kaua‘i vs. Waimea, 3 p.m., Vidinha Stadium (Kauai JV vs. Kapaa JV, noon)

Saturday, Oct. 20 – Kapa‘a vs. Kaua‘i, 3 p.m., Vidinha Stadium (JV, noon)

Saturday, Oct. 27 – Waimea vs. Kapa‘a, 4:30 p.m., Hanapepe Stadium

Saturday, Nov. 3 – Playoff (if necessary)