LAHAINA – It might have happened a year or two later than they would have liked, but the Division I debut of Lahainaluna High School football team has arrived.
The Lunas welcomed around 50 players to practice Tuesday at Sue Cooley Stadium, the second day of training resumed through the Maui Interscholastic League.
“It’s just great to see the children in the field” Lahainaluna co-trainer Dean Rickard said. “And I think the excitement you can see more on the faces of the kids than on the faces of the coaches. For us we treated it like a long layoff, but I think the kids are more excited to go out and I think it showed yesterday – the enthusiasm, the willingness to straighten out in the rhythm of things.
“And pleasantly surprised by the current conditioning of our children. Some of them did things on their own and it showed up yesterday. “
There was a seven-week hiatus from high school athletic activities due to the state’s August 4 Education Department decree that all players, coaches, and volunteers must be vaccinated against COVID-19 or benefit from an approved exemption for religious or medical reasons. .
“We are far, far from ready, as I guess most of the other teams are”, Rickard said. “We still have four weeks left and we have a lot of work to do before our first game on October 22. “
The Lunas have won the last four Division II state crowns and also own a MIL football record of 25 straight league wins, dating back to the final week of the 2016 season.
Now they are officially a Division I team.
“It was long overdue, I think, not only for us as coaches, but I think for our community and especially for the players,” he said. Rickard said. “Because they wanted to show that they belonged to Division I and that they could compete in Division I. Not just here in the MIL because we have already done that and I think we are the only league in playing cross divisions and caliber is comparable to the rest of the state, so this is just natural progress.
“I think being in the MIL and having that depth of talent and competitiveness with not only the Division I teams but also the Division II schools here on Maui… it just prepares both sides, whether it’s DI or D-II. “
Rickard added, “Our wish has come true – I think it’s exciting not only for our community. … We finally got the transfer after the 2019 season. Unfortunately, with the squad we had back for the 2020 season, it would have been nice to see what this squad could have accomplished, but with the pandemic, that didn’t did not work. But now these kids are excited to show what they can do and I think we can stay competitive at Division I level. ”
Senior Koliniasi Latu, a 5-foot-9, 275-pound center, is delighted to be back on the training ground.
“Very excited, happy that we overcame the great struggle we had with our almost canceled season no matter what is going on with that”, said Latu. “I’m happy we’re back and training. I’m glad we got to play games (in) my last year and just excited to be back.
Latu, a team captain, led the Lunas in stretching and warm-up drills at the start of training on Tuesday.
“It’s a special feeling” said Latu. “My freshman year, always seeing my upper class students leading us was… it was just inspiring. I always wanted to be like them and I am happy to have the opportunity to feel what they felt.
Main attacking right tackle Dylan Kawaiaea, who is 6-1, 240 pounds, also struggles to hide the smile on his face on Matchday 2.
“It’s really good to be back on the pitch these guys really missed out and playing football,” he said. he said. “All of us, all the boys, practiced and prepared our shots. I feel like we’re going to have a good season.
On Monday, the Lunas had eight seniors and seven juniors in training, while there were 20 sophomores and 15 freshmen. Rickard expects those numbers to increase – especially in the higher ranks – from players working on exemptions or waiting to be fully immunized.
Kawaiaea said her little class was ready to lead the group.
“For us, a little older people, there are a lot of responsibilities at the moment”, he said. “I think we have a good season and we seniors are going to get these guys ready to go. “
Rickard believes the prospect of a junior varsity game in the MIL this season is quickly fading. His team is extremely unlikely to do so.
“We’re looking at potentially 57 or 60 players, but at the same time we’ve already sort of come to the conclusion that we’re probably not going to field a JV team this year,” he added. Rickard said. “One of the reasons being that we have a lot of underclass students who are eligible, while a lot of our seniors and juniors, we’re very small in this area.
“So we’re going to raise these JV kids and probably join the rest of the league and just focus with a varsity team and use these JV kids the best we can.”
* Robert Collias is at [email protected]