Coach Lee taught
Islanders how to
win this year

Cal Lee took the team to the
playoffs for the first time this season

Islanders results

The terrible twos weren't all that bad for the Hawaiian Islanders.

In their second season in arenafootball2, the Islanders:

>> Improved their win output by six games over last year;

>> Qualified for the league playoffs for the first time;

>> And captured the National Conference West Division championship.

They closed the season with a 58-38 loss at Tulsa (Okla.) last Saturday in the National Conference semifinals. But the loss didn't diminish the accomplishments of an 11-7 season in the players' minds.

"We've come a long way," quarterback Darnell Arceneaux said. "Guys made a lot of sacrifices, whether it was family, personal time or jobs, to make this thing work. There were so many factors into how this came about."

The beginnings of the Islanders' turnaround season can be traced to Oct. 23, 2002, when the team announced the hiring of former Saint Louis School coach Cal Lee.

Lee, who led the Crusaders to 14 Prep Bowl titles and a state championship on the high school level, injected a sense of purpose and confidence into the franchise heading into its second season.

"When we signed Cal I pretty much knew we were going to have a winning team," Islanders owner Kimberly Wang said. "He's a winner, that's what he does. ... He really doesn't know how to do anything but win, so I was pretty confident that we were going to do much better than last year."

Although new to the arena game, Lee and his coaching staff installed a system that allowed the team to overcome injuries to several key players throughout a grueling 18-game season.

When Arceneaux sat out five games with a broken bone in his throwing hand, Mike Tillis stepped in and helped keep the team in first place in the division. Nian Taylor, the team's leading receiver and scorer, also missed significant playing time with a hamstring injury.

Work commitments also prevented several players from participating in practices and games.

"When I watched them during the games the one thing I do think of most is I wish that I could pay them more," Wang said. "Those guys practice five days a week at night and have a full-time job. Some of our guys actually play the game and go from the game to do a graveyard shift at work. The one recurring thought I would have is, 'I wish we could pay them more.' "

Although the arena game is geared toward throwing the ball, the Islanders utilized their stable of punishing running backs to lead the league in rushing offense with 50.7 yards per game. Three Islanders -- Josh White, Chris Paogofie and Arceneaux -- finished the regular season ranked in the top 10 in af2 in rushing.

Another factor in earning the division title was the Islanders' penchant for pulling out the close games. They went 8-2 in games decided by eight points or less and were 3-1 in one-point games.

THE ISLANDERS BEGAN the year 3-2 and went on a four-game winning streak midway through the season to take the lead in the division race.

"We were getting on a roll for a while and we didn't think we were going to lose anymore," defensive specialist Eddie Klaneski said.

"We had plans on trying to make it all the way. Once we started playing we realized that we had a pretty good squad, we felt we could beat anyone on any given day."

Klaneski, who hadn't planned on playing this season after having shoulder surgery last summer, provided stability and leadership for a defense that set a franchise record for fewest points allowed in a 34-26 win at San Diego on July 18. The win, coupled with a tie between Wichita and Bakersfield, clinched the division title for the Islanders and assured them of hosting a playoff game.

The Islanders defeated division rival Wichita 57-30 in the first round of the ArenaCup playoffs at Blaisdell Arena to advance to the conference semifinals. The team's ride finally hit the brakes last week in Tulsa with their loss to the Talons.

"I think overall we had a lot of fun," Lee said. "Coaching football with the staff we had was very enjoyable for everyone. Working with the players was a real joy. It was a real pleasure."

Arceneaux, the new coach at Saint Louis, said his playing career in af2 is likely over, although he might consider playing again if he gets a call from the Arena Football League. It remains to be seen how many other members of this year's squad return to the team.

"A lot of guys want to come back and play if nothing goes on (with the AFL)," Klaneski said. "The day we ended in Tulsa, nobody in that locker room wanted that to be their last game. So there's going to be a lot of guys who want to come back and do better than what we did this year."

The team will enter the third year of its initial three-year commitment in af2 next year, but Wang said the front office has devised a five-year plan for the franchise.

The Islanders averaged 3,388 fans for nine home games. Although encouraged by the loyalty of the core group of supporters, Wang said getting more fans in the seats will be the key to the long-term survival of the franchise.

"We're definitely headed in the right direction," she said. "It's just a matter of how fast we get there."


Hawaiian Islanders results

Regular Season

March 30 Green Bay W 48-37
April 4 at Quad City W 53-52
April 19 at Bakersfield L 43-58
April 26 San Diego W 51-43
May 3 at Wichita L 29-36
May 10 Bakersfield W 50-48
May 16 Wichita W 61-55
May 24 at Cincinnati W 35-28
May 31 Louisville W 67-48
June 7 ar Arkansas L 39-58
June 14 Peoria W 44-43
June 21 at San Diego W 39-38
June 28 Quad City L 36-54
July 12 at Tulsa L 47-48
July 18 at San Diego W 34-26
July 27 Bakersfield L 61-75

ArenaCup Playoffs

Aug. 1 Wichita W 57-30
Aug. 9 at Tulsa L 38-58

Hawaiian Islanders

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