Pele Buika and Kayela Santiago play for two of the Maui Interscholastic League elite girls soccer teams.
Baldwin and King Kekaulike high schools have grabbed seven of the last 12 state tournament spots available to the MIL in Division I play. The other five have gone to Kamehameha Maui.
Buika, a senior defender headed to Colorado College on a soccer scholarship, played on three MIL title teams in her Baldwin career. Santiago, a junior forward, led King Kekaulike to a state berth this season.
Baldwin’s Pele Buika (left) and King Kekaulike’s Kayela Santiago were voted co-Maui Interscholastic League Girls Soccer Players of the Year. Buika, a senior defender, played on three MIL title teams, while Santiago helped Na Alii reach the state tournament this past season.
The Maui News / ROBERT COLLIAS photo
Buika and Santiago have battled each other for the past three years in league play and are the coaches picks as co-MIL Players of the Year.
"I wasn't expecting it, but when you gave me the call I was very honored to know that all my hard work and pain and struggle through this four years of soccer has been put to use and recognized by the community," Buika said.
Buika donned a wide smile when asked about sharing the award with Santiago.
"Congratulations to her, too," Buika said. "We have both been working our butts off and every time we step on that field it is definitely a coldblooded, hard-fought game."
As a defender, Buika said that she always had to keep an eye on Santiago when the Bears and Na Alii met.
"She is very quick on her feet, she thinks very fast," Buika said. "You just have to be very reactive with her. You know her, when she slips through she can just go."
Santiago echoed Buika's thoughts.
"I was actually surprised because there is so much talent out there this year," Santiago said. "It is a really big honor to me."
To share the award with Buika, "Is pretty cool because she is a very central part of Baldwin's team and she is a very tough player. We are not friends on the field, but we are friends off the field. When we step on it's like we don't know each other, but when we are off we smile, say 'hi,' share laughs and stuff like that."
MIL champion Kamehameha Maui landed Hayden Takahashi, Quinn Williams, Kaylee Correa and Kaitlyn Barcoma on the first team. Tiana Lucas, Mary-Lynn Johannes, Malia Yamashiro, and Shauni Okazaki of Maui High all made first team. Santiago is joined by King Kekaulike teammates Tiera Arakawa, Nikki Musto, Kisa Giebink and Kenya Sherman on the first unit, while Baldwin's Christina Kenagy joins teammate Buika on the first team.
Kamehameha Maui's Steven Mau is the choice of his peers as MIL Coach of the Year.
Santiago said that her award is part of a team effort.
"Our coaches teach us to be a passing team and the goals are a reward for the team," she said.
The MIL is a tough league, according to Santiago. Baldwin and Maui High were both in contention for state berths until the final week of the season.
"Kamehameha and Baldwin have always brought it out each year and Maui High was really tough this season," Santiago said. "We only had a few players compared to them. We only had about 16 players, so our team had to work extra hard."
The Bears missed the 2012 state tournament after three straight league titles, but Buika came out of her senior season with lessons learned. Colorado College is an NCAA Division I program in Colorado Springs.
"I am so ready to start the next chapter in my life," Buika said. "These four years for high school and soccer definitely taught me and definitely prepared me for the next level and I'm just so excited for that.
"This year was definitely bittersweet, more bitter, but through soccer you don't learn just soccer. You learn character and adversity. I think losing this year has taught me more than winning the past three years."
* Robert Collias is at email@example.com