It’s nearly 3,000 miles from Honolulu to Phoenix. It’s a six hour flight – if you’re lucky and have no layovers – and a three-hour time difference. But Leahi Premier couldn’t be happier to make the trip.
The Hawaiian State Cup champs come over to the mainland three times each year to play in tournaments, according to coach Joelle Sugai. The team competed in the Players Showcase in Las Vegas in March, and will travel to Surf Cup later this summer in San Diego. In between, they look to make waves at next week’s US Youth Soccer Region IV Championships.
“It can be difficult to get quality opponents in Hawaii,” says Sugai. “In order for us to get good competition, we either have to go to the mainland, or we have to play teams that are older than us.”
Leahi Premier showed last year that they can compete with teams from the other states. After winning Group A, they went on to compete in the regional finals before losing to Arsenal – a team they had beaten in group play. And this year, they find themselves in another strong group with State Cup champions from New Mexico, Colorado and South California.
One of those teams is Del Mar Sharks, the New Mexico state champs who finished second in the Far West Regional League. The two teams met in Las Vegas, and Del Mar played to a 4-0 victory.
“We know they’re a great team,” says Sugai. “But if we can get focused on what we want to do, and execute our game plan, we know we can play with them.”
Leahi Premier will follow the lead of their captain Nycole Mitsuyasu, a midfielder who controls the pace of the game. “She reads the game well, and she’s one of our most complete players,” says Sugai.
Defensively, they’ll depend on standout goalkeeper Claire Johnson, who was instrumental in last year’s regional finals run. With Mitsuyasu orchestrating the field and Johnson guarding the net, this squad is poised to return for a chance at the regional crown.
Del Mar Sharks (Group A) – The South California State Cup champ also won the Surf Thanksgiving Tournament and the Atlanta Final Four Showcase
Legends FC (Group D) – Won the National League and the Far West Regional League this spring, won Surf Cup last summer
San Tan Legacy Red (Group C) – The team had a hot spring, including three tournament championships and finalists at the Presidents Day Tournament
Bay Oaks Botafogo (Group B) – North California State Cup champs also won the Nike Mustang Stampede last summer
Carlsbad Elite (Group C) – A good showing in the Far West Regional League bodes well for this squad
Melissa Lowder, Del Mar Sharks – National Team Player, Region IV ODP Player
Hailey Harbison, Del Mar Sharks – Region IV ODP Player
Claire Johnson, Leahi Premier – Region IV ODP Player
Emma Young, Leahi Premier – Region IV ODP Player
Peyton Perea, Legends FC – National Team Player, Region IV ODP Player
Ally Prisock, Legends FC – National Team Player, Region IV ODP Player
Mikayla Flores, Legends FC – Region IV ODP Player, had a strong showing in the National League
Aerial Chavarin, Bay Oaks Botafogo – National Team Player, Region IV ODP
Addie Wallace, Bay Oaks Botafogo – National Team Player, Region IV ODP
Stephanie Zuniga, Bay Oaks Botafogo – National Team Player
Jessica Viera Ramirez – Region IV ODP Player
Devan Talley, Eastside FC – Region IV ODP Player
Josie Manwill, LaRoca – Region IV ODP Player
Ally Watt, Pride Predators – Region IV ODP Player
Noelle Lara, MVLA Mercury Black – Region IV ODP Player