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The King Kekaulike High School boys soccer team celebrates with the championship trophy after defeating Hilo 3-1 in the Niu Health Urgent Care/HHSAA Division I boys soccer state championship game Saturday night at Radford High School’s John E. Velasco Stadium. PARISH KALEIWAHEA photos

This time, there was no doubt.

After decades of building a solid program that had come close to a state championship match, the King Kekaulike High School boys soccer made the most of its first appearance in the final.

Na Alii delivered a resounding 3-1 win over Hilo in the final of the Division I Niu Health Urgent Care/HHSAA state tournament Saturday night at Radford High School’s John E. Velasco Stadium.

After King Kekaulike’s Owen Riecke tapped in the first tally from the doorstep of the goal after the Hilo goalkeeper mishandled a bouncing ball in the 13th minute, Bailey Hofmann delivered the telling blow moments before halftime.

After being fouled just outside the left side of the penalty box — an infraction that drew a yellow card on the Hilo defender — Hofmann delivered a perfect free kick from about 30 yards that ended up in the upper-righthand corner of the net.

King Kekaulike goalkeeper Nainoa Pascual celebrates after his team’s win Saturday.

“Oh yeah, it’s an amazing feeling, I love this team, we’re a family,” said Hofmann, who was named the Most Outstanding Player of the D-I state tournament. “I love these guys like my brothers.”

The goal that made it 2-0 in the championship match was from nearly the same spot on the field that Hofmann delivered an assist on a free kick that Rex Riecke headed in for the game-winner in the 99th minute of a 1-0 win over Kalani on Friday night in the semifinals.

“I was looking at the goal that I assisted Rex Riecke on and today I was like maybe I can go for a goal,” Hofmann said. “I went for it.”

Earlier, Owen Riecke had another golden chance in the 22nd minute and Hilo had a couple shots go just wide in the first 20 minutes of the match, but Hofmann’s goal appeared to be the knockout blow.

“Being a part of this team is so special, man,” Owen Riecke said. “I never thought that we were going to be able to make it to this place in the first place. I’m just so proud of us. We worked hard from the very beginning of the season, from preseason all the way until now — it’s been hard work, dedication.

Na Alii’s Bailey Hofmann runs after the ball.

“We’re a very fighting team, we always put our heart into every game, no matter what, even if we’re losing, we will always put 110 percent in. If we were going to continue to do that I knew we were going to be in a good place.”

Na Alii upped the lead to 3-0 in the 51st minute when Jai Sternthall blasted an 18-yarder after the ball bounced around and rebounded a couple times in the box.

Both Riecke brothers, Sternthall and Angus Daniel joined Hofmann on the D-I all-tournament team.

Hilo got on the scoreboard in the 67th minute when Koae Pea scored from about 20 yards out.

But this was King Kekaulike’s night, as Na Alii were in control all match long. The crown was the third state team title of any kind for the school, to go along with titles won by the 2004 mixed paddling crew and 2006 D-II football team.

King Kekaulike’s Jai Sternthall (right) and Owen Riecke celebrate Sternthall’s second-half goal.

It was also the first outright boys soccer state championship for the MIL and the first D-I outright state crown for a Neighbor Island school — Baldwin and Hawaii Prep shared the 2018 D-I title when their championship match was tied 1-1 and halted late in the proceedings by lighting in the area.

“This was just unbelievable, I mean these boys, from day one, we asked them to give everything they had every single day,” Na Alii co-head coach Aaron Hamamura said. “And they stepped up to the task and, it’s just, I can’t even put it into words what this means.”

The King Kekaulike boys’ success follows that of the school’s girls program, which lost a 1-0 heartbreaker to Kamehameha Kapalama in the 2020 state final.

Hamamura said this title means a ton to the Upcountry school that was seeded fourth in the tournament. Na Alii (10-1-2) won the MIL crown on a head-to-head tiebreaker with Baldwin after both teams finished league play 7-1-2.

“I hope it means a lot,” he said. “In my opinion it just legitimizes the MIL and shows now that we have two state champions, former state champions in the league and that the MIL is no joke and that we’re right up there with the (Oahu Interscholastic Association), the (Interscholastic League of Honolulu) and these other powerhouse leagues.”

King Kekaulike co-head coach Tye Perdido holds up the championship trophy.

Hamamura said it was also special to share championship night with Seabury Hall, the MIL D-II representative that fell to Kamehameha Hawaii in a shootout in their title tilt played right before the D-I match.

The Spartans watched all three of the King Kekaulike matches at state and they ran onto the field to celebrate with Na Alii after King Kekaulike’s quarterfinal shootout win over Kapolei that took an extra shot to decide.

“It was so awesome, I don’t know if they know, but their support meant the world to the boys,” Hamamura said. “It was so awesome when they came out onto the field with us against Kapolei. We were rooting hard for them today and we congratulate them on the season they had, they have nothing to be ashamed of.

“They played a great game and we’re happy for them, man. They’re our Upcountry brothers.”

* Robert Collias is at [email protected].

Riecke gestures after his first-half goal.

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