HAWAII GROWN REPORT
COURTESY GONZAGA UNIVERSITY
Senior Vito Higgins continued a run of goalies from Kailua that began with Josh Fouts in 1996 and continued with Mike McCarthy in 1999. Higgins took over as a freshman in 2003.
Gonzaga attracts local soccer talent
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Vito Higgins (Academy of the Pacific '03) has his own theory on why Gonzaga attracts so many local soccer players.
"Coach Einar (Thorarinsson) is from Iceland," Higgins explained. "He likes the islander thing."
In his 13 years at the helm, Thorarinsson has coached some of the best players ever to come out of Hawaii, including current Houston Dynamo Brian Ching.
Higgins and fellow senior Daniel Scott (King Kekaulike '03) are two of four local athletes on this year's team.
Both of them have overcome major injuries to help Gonzaga to its share of memorable games this season.
The Bulldogs defeated defending national champions UC Santa Barbara and cross-state rivals Washington in back-to- back games.
The Gauchos were ranked No. 1 at the time, but even more fulfilling was the Huskies victory, as Gonzaga hadn't beaten them in 19 previous tries.
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For the past decade, there has been at least one constant for the Gonzaga men's soccer team: a goalkeeper from Kailua.
Senior Vito Higgins (Academy of the Pacific 2003) is the latest Windward-side product to patrol the goal for the Bulldogs.
Josh Fouts began the run as a sophomore in 1996 before giving way to Mike McCarthy in 1999. McCarthy was a four-year starter before Higgins took over his freshman season in 2003.
The link among the three can be traced back to Kalaheo in the mid-'90s.
"My uncle coached both of those guys at Kalaheo when I was a ball boy," Higgins said. "I knew they went to Gonzaga, so it was always in the back of my mind from a young age."
They have allowed coach Einar Thorarinsson to establish a Hawaii pipeline that has brought the Bulldogs a tremendous amount of success this season.
Higgins, Daniel Scott (King Kekaulike '03) and Tye Perdido (Seabury Hall '06) have all played important roles for the Bulldogs, who are 8-3-3 this season and have been ranked in the top 15.
Freshman Nick Love (Punahou '07), the 2005 Star-Bulletin player of the year, is also on the team.
"I think our coach, like, seriously recognizes the work ethic Hawaii-born players have," Scott said. "We might not be the most skilled players compared to guys who play on the mainland, but with the right coaching, you can gain skill, but you can never teach work ethic."
The transition from high school to college soccer is obviously a big jump, but the styles of play between Hawaii and the mainland differ as well.
"Players on the mainland have more of a complete knowledge of the game," Scott said. "Soccer in Hawaii isn't as big. It's definitely growing, but compared to the mainland, it's not as big as it could be."
Part of that growth can be attributed to the success of Gonzaga alumnus Brian Ching, a Kamehameha graduate, who is one of five Bulldogs who has gone on to play professionally.
Fouts played for the Boston Bulldogs in the A-league, and Scott's brother, Zach, currently plays in the same league for the Seattle Sounders.
"It'd be a dream come true to be able to play professionally," the younger Scott said.
Both Scott and Higgins have professional aspirations, and they have become close friends during their five years at Gonzaga.
The two were roommates during their freshman year before injuries caused both of them to miss entire seasons.
Scott suffered a torn hip flexor that cost him his sophomore season, while Higgins tore his MCL and suffered a subsequent viral condition that kept him out of action for all of 2005.
"It's probably one of the toughest things I have ever had to go through," Scott said. "Being away from the game that long makes you really realize how much you miss it and enjoy playing."
Both have fully recovered and started all 14 games this season.
Higgins, a standout during his high school years for Pac-Five, is allowing .075 goals per game and has logged every minute in goal this season for the Zags.
In his four-plus years of college, Higgins has heard his share of trash-talking and taunting. But it was a home game earlier this season where a fan finally got a reaction out of Higgins on the field.
"I have a beard going on and long hair, so one guy yelled, 'It's not messing with sasquatch, it's messing with Vito,' " Higgins said. "I just bust out laughing in the middle of the game. I couldn't keep the straight face."
The joke was in reference to a beef jerky company's "messing with sasquatch" commercials.
"Obviously, I'm always trying to stay focused on the field, but I had to laugh at that one," Higgins said.
While Higgins and Scott were both thrust into playing time right away as freshmen, the same can't be said for Perdido.
The Seabury Hall graduate didn't join the team with the same lofty expectations as the other two, but has earned significant playing time as a sophomore, starting six of the team's 14 games.
Perdido wasn't recruited heavily out of high school and showed up on the Gonzaga campus just trying to make the team.
"It was the only school that really gave me a shot," Perdido said. "I didn't expect much when I came up."
He's tied for second on the team with three goals.
Gonzaga opened the season with wins over then-No. 1 UC Santa Barbara and Washington, which helped propel it as high as 12th in the national rankings.
The Zags haven't won in their last three games, however, and are trying to turn things around with the postseason looming.
"We had high expectations going into this year with a core group of guys we've had for four years," Scott said. "It's all or nothing now. This is it for us."