Keawekane Selected to U14 Youth National Soccer Team
By Rodney S. Yap
She is Maui’s first female soccer player to be invited to train with the U14 United States Women’s National Soccer Team.
Ilihia Keawekane, a 13-year-old midfielder with Pono Soccer Club, was selected to the U14 Youth National Team after impressing coaches at the Hawaii Olympic Development Program Sub-Regional Event on Oahu, March 27-31.
“It’s an honor to have this opportunity,” said Ilihia, daughter of Amos and Mitzie Keawekane. “I’m very proud of myself. It took a lot of hard work and I thank my coaches, my family, and my teammates, for supporting me and helping me.”
Kewaekane’s one-week journey begins on Mother’s Day, May 12. The Kamehameha 7th-grader will join 47 of the nation’s best female soccer players in her age group at the University of Portland in Oregon. By the time the camp ends on May 19, Keawekane must prove to head coach April Kater that she is worthy of one of 36 roster spots on the U14 US Women’s Youth National Soccer Team.
“One of my goals was to get to the highest level. I didn’t know there was such a thing as a national team, so my goal was to make the regional team, but now that I am here, my goal is to make the national team and stay there.”
If Keawekane is chosen, she will attend two additional training camps, from Sept. 14-21 and Dec. 8-15, with a squad that will represent the US on the international stage. All travel expenses and accommodations are being paid for by US Soccer.
“Ilihia has the raw talent. She’s strong, she’s fast, she has a solid kick, she’s tenacious,” said ’00 Pono SC’s BJ Medeiros, who has coached Keawekane the last five years. “With that and the teammates she is constantly around who are just as competitive and always pushing each other, she’s ready.
“This is the result of the progress these girls are making together. They can look back and see we have a teammate who has made it to a national camp and their hopes and dreams are the same. She is the first one and I’m sure she won’t be the last from our club and maybe more Hawaii kids will follow.”
Keawekane credits her teammates and coaches for their help and support.
“Leialoha (Medeiros) inspires me because she’s one of the best soccer players in Hawaii. She pushes me to get better and that makes me stronger, faster and more skillful.”
In preparation for the camp, Keawekane continues to train with Coach Medeiros and ’00 Pono twice a week. She gets additional training 2-3 times a week with Valley Isle Soccer Academy coaches Aleks Filipović and Rebecca Filipović for individual training and tactical film sessions.
Keawekane said she has been working with “Coach Aleks and Coach Rebecca for the last three years.”
She also attends speed and agility training with David Kamalani from GetFast.
“I want to play Division I soccer, that’s my goal.”
Both Filipovićs are state coaches for the Olympic Development Program and worked with the regional staff in March to identify and recommend players, including Ilihia, for selection to the next level.
“Coaches may offer knowledge, but at the end of the day, it is what a player chooses to do with that information that determines his or her success,” said Aleksandar Filipović, Director of Coaching at VIS Academy. “For Ilihia, all credit most importantly goes to her and her family. Credit must also go to Coach BJ for his unrelenting commitment to the ’00 Pono Team, and for always welcoming other opportunities for his players’ development.”
“She’s definitely one of the leaders and captains of our team,” Medeiros said. “She’s also one of the original girls who started with us about seven years ago. . . . But in the past two years a lot of our girls, who are now 13-years old, have made big strides. And the main reason for that is because they have stayed together as a core group.
“They are very competitive and constantly challenging each other. We travel twice a year to the mainland and we go to Oahu three to four times a year. We play in all the Maui tournaments. But in order to get the competitive edge that we are talking about you have to go to Oahu and to the mainland.
“Club soccer is the way to go now and boys and girls growing up are enjoying the rewards of playing soccer at an early age. I think players like Nicole Garbin (formerly of Baldwin High and University of Oregon) have definitely paved the way for these younger players. I think we will see a lot more Division I college players coming out of Hawaii — both boys and girls.”