LAHAINA - Lahainaluna High School boys soccer coach Sam Aki is a man that seems to always have a smile on his face. Going into the kickoff of the 2011-12 Maui Interscholastic League season, that grin on the burly veteran coach's mug seems to be growing ever wider.
Viewing the Lunas' 6-3-3, third place MIL Division I finish last season and a deep, talented roster to work with for the current campaign, Coach Sam's bright demeanor these days is understandable.
"We are a very balanced team with a high skill level, and probably the best team that Lahainaluna has ever fielded. They also have a positive, upbeat attitude," he said from "Imu," the state-of-the-art athletic facility on campus.
The Lunas beat Seabury Hall 2-0 on Thursday at home.
Aki will be assisted by Mark Tillman, Ishmael Esparza, Keola Maielua and Jeremy Delos Reyes, and the player roster is headed up by senior four-year player Jorge Hernandez, one of the MIL's top players.
Senior returnees include Deason Allen, Luis Garnita Hernandez and Geraldo Rivera, and junior returnees are Rhys Lendio, Reece Sinenci, Nestor Gomez Perez, Julian Bel-Robert, Erich Skrotzki, Blake Ramelb, Sergio Gonzalez, Noah Camara and Francisco Jimenez Sadalgo.
The Lunas' youthful roster also includes sophomores Christian Cardenas, Rodrigo Arroyo Haro, Dylan Morales, Jonathan Moreida Dela Paz and Keoni Miranda, and freshmen Pablo Perez, Amateo Flores, Yoxten Zuleta, Jared Rocha and Emerson Liburd.
"We'll work a 4-4-2 sweeper, stopper system with a triangle passing game, which will be good for our players' skill level. We should get a lot of breakaway opportunities with our speed at the top. We do lack experience with so many first-year players, and we never can tell what will happen as far as injuries and grades are concerned. All in all, the MIL is really even this year and anyone can take it."
The MIL regular season began on Dec. 7 and will run through early February, with the state tournament scheduled for the end of the month at the Waipio Soccer Peninsula field at Central Oahu Regional Park.