HIGH SCHOOL REPORT
CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Stephanie Yoro, Natalie Wong and Jasmine Pratt are among the leaders for the Mililani soccer team, which has one of the state's strongest programs. CLICK FOR LARGE
Soccer mill going strong
Once again, the Mililani Trojans are off and running in the Oahu Interscholastic Association
OVER the past three decades, the Mililani girls soccer program has perfected its formula for success on the playing pitch.
The Trojan program has maintained its reputation as a winner using equal parts hustle and teamwork and a healthy dose of talent from one of the state's youth soccer hotbeds.
Among Oahu's public schools, no other program has proven as dominant as the Trojans, whose 10 Oahu Interscholastic Association titles are by far the most by a single school since the league began recognizing a champion in 1980.
"There is no doubt that Mililani is traditionally a very strong soccer community," said one college coach, who has experience recruiting in Hawaii over the past 10 years, but didn't want to be identified.
"They have many young families with kids who have benefited from improved coaching at the youth levels over the years. Still, the program has enjoyed a lot of success because the coaches there do a good job of putting the right girls on the field together and having them peak at the right time of the year each season."
The Trojans first leapt into the state soccer spotlight in the mid-1980s, when former coach Charles Esperas guided Mililani to OIA championships in 1984, '86, '87, '88, '92 and '93.
Esperas and his Trojans legitimized the program's claim as one of Hawaii's elite programs with state titles in '88 and '94.
Success continued through the 1990s, and rose to new heights in recent years, as the Trojans claimed four of the past five OIA crowns. Under former coach James Uson, Mililani was a virtual lock for a state-tournament berth, winning the school's third championship in 2002.
"They have always had a lot of depth," said Joelle Sugai, a former standout at Aiea High School and the University of Hawaii. "Going back to my playing days, we always felt as though they had a very strong starting 11 out there, which is a luxury for OIA schools."
CURRENT HEAD coach Ray Akiona, the Star-Bulletin's 2004 All-State Coach of the Year, took over the reins of the program after a number of years as an assistant coach under Uson and has helped Mililani maintain its success. In his three seasons since taking over the program in '03, Akiona has driven the Trojans to two OIA championships and state-tournament appearances each season.
Since 2001, 25 Trojans have earned first or second-team All-State honors, and 38 have received league all-star distinction.
Following their '02 state championship season, seven Trojans were honored on the All-State team. Eight players on that team went on to play at the collegiate level, including six -- Mele French (Oregon), Jennifer Loo (Idaho State), Ashlee Doi (Pepperdine), Sarah Yoro (Oregon), Liane Tom (Boise State) and Eryn Kishimoto (Pacific) -- who played at NCAA Division I.
Since the late '90s, nearly 20 alums have continued their playing careers at the college level.
"When I was in middle school, I used to go to all the Mililani soccer games to watch my sister Sarah play," said returning All-State midfielder Stephanie Yoro. "Watching her and Mele (French) and Jen (Loo) and all of them play really made me want to be a part of that. That drove me to work hard to make the team, and then once I made the team, I wanted to work even harder to uphold Mililani's legacy."
Fellow senior co-captain Jasmine Pratt agreed.
"We are part of a legacy, as Steph mentioned," Pratt said. "Mililani soccer is about so much more than winning. It feels really good to play for Mililani and have the support of the community, and have our parents and even alumni parents cheering us on at our games. Our coaches make sure we give back to the community with service projects we participate in, too, and that's a great thing to be a part of."
THIS SEASON'S edition of Trojan soccer is living up to the high expectations that accompany the program each season. With Yoro and fellow returning first-team All-State selections Pratt and Natalie Wong leading the way, Mililani is once again at the top of the OIA Red West at 6-0-0 after knocking off Pearl City and Kapolei in the past week.
"I think this team is really special," Pratt said. "We have most of our team returning this season, so we all know the thrill of victory and the pain of defeat from past years, because we experienced it together. We would like to do our part to add to it (the school's legacy)."
Yoro is the Trojans' leading scorer with seven goals, and Pratt and Wong have helped lead a stingy defensive effort. Mililani has outscored its opponents 26-1, but the Trojans know their work this season is far from over.
"Coach has a saying for us this year," Yoro said. "He tells us to 'Get on the Train.' He tells us that we can either work hard and help the team progress to the next level, or we can get left behind. That saying really motivates us.
"Our sophomore season we lost in the OIA finals in penalty kicks, and then lost to Punahou in states, 1-0. Last year, we finally won the OIAs, but lost in the state championship. Coming so close is so much more devastating but it has motivated us to work that much harder.
"If we push a little harder throughout the year, maybe we can finally push through."