Ilihia’s Journey to Signing With Oregon State University
Last week, VIS Academy Elite player, Ilihia Keawekane, signed her official Letter of Intent to play soccer at Oregon State University. While her signing marks the start of her collegiate career as a Beaver, it also represents the culmination of the last 12 years of Ilihia’s development as a competitive youth soccer player.
Ilihia has spent the past seven years training full time under the Academy Elite program. As part of its Development Framework, VIS Academy worked with Ilihia at each stage, from technical habits at her younger ages, to developing a strong tactical understanding of the game over the past few years. In addition to the consistency of VIS Academy coaches in Ilihia’s development, the most critical aspect of this Framework has been the freedom Ilihia has had to work with other soccer programs and coaches, all of whom have contributed to her success leading into college soccer.
Most importantly, Ilihia has had the unconditional support of her parents, Amos and Mitzie, and her achievements as a player are, without a doubt, primarily a product of this support system.
Ilihia has had many ups and downs over the past 7 years since she committed to wanting to pursue soccer competitively at the age of 10. When she was in the 8th grade, she verbally committed on a full-ride scholarship to the University of Kentucky, only to have that taken away when the coach who recruited her left the program. She was selected to the U14 Girls National Team, and learned difficult lessons about the importance of good technical habits and tactical understanding.
We wanted to share with you the story of Ilihia’s journey from Ilihia’s perspective and the perspective of her parents. Her story is inspiring and eye-opening for many players and parents of players who want to play at the Division I collegiate level. It shows the importance of having unconditional support, exposure to various training and team environments and multiple coaching perspectives. The saying goes, “it takes a village”. When it comes to developing a competitive soccer player in the United States, nothing could be truer.
How did you start playing soccer?
I started playing at 4 years old in the AYSO league. I literally hated soccer. I cried for the first two weeks of practice. My dad had to hold my hand while running around the cones during practice.
What teams have you played for?
HYSA Teams (7-12 years old)
Wailuku Bruisers – Coach Kawika Keator
Pono SC – Coaches Jim Kaeo and BJ Medieros
Surf Hawaii – Coach Kirk Adams and Shawn Kuroda
Valley Isle Soccer Academy – Elite Academy, Coach Aleks Filipovic
High School (12-present)
Valley Isle Soccer Academy – Elite Academy, Coaches Aleks and Rebecca Filiprovic
Kamehameha High School – Coaches Brandon Kotter and Jayson Nakasone
Davis Legacy SC-ECNL – Coachs Mark Torguson, Ashley Yudin and Jesus Mata
San Juan Sprits ECNL – Coach Tony Perez
SC Del Sol ECNL – Coach Tommy McNaughton
Santa Rosa United ECNL – Coach Trisha Zeimer
Leahi SC – Coaches Gina Brewer and Lisa Wurlitzer
When did the love for the game really develop?
I loved playing with all of my Pono SC team mates from the ages of 11-13. That time of my life was really fun because we worked really well together and were in some major soccer battles all over the country. Those battles really solidified a bond that I will all cherish and never forget. I think the love for the game itself didn’t start until I was 15. For whatever reasons, I became hungry to play.
Did you set goals for yourself from young age?
At the age of 8 is when my dad started talking about Division I soccer. The same conversations were happening with my brother who played football. Obviously, at 8 years old, you don’t really know anything about college and or Division I. Division I soccer became a common topic of conversation with my family and I just followed along.
What are some lessons that you had to learn the hard way?
Tactical knowledge is critical to high level soccer.
When I was 13, I was invited to the U14 US Girls’ National Team training camp in Portland Oregon. I was seen playing forward during a sub-regional Olympic Development Program (ODP) event on Oahu prior to being invited. However, when I went to Oregon they put me on defense. Prior to that event, I had never played defense. I was like a fish out of water. Needless to say, I did not make the cut. I realized that my understanding of the game was not good enough. I grew up playing only one position (left wing) and that is all I knew how to do. I did not have tactical training at the clubs I was playing for, and I had bad technical and training habits. I was given a wonderful opportunity to play with the US GNT, but because of my deficiency in tactical knowledge, I lost my opportunity.
It was not until I started training more consistently with VIS Academy that I started to develop proper technical and training habits and a better understanding about the game. That allowed me to have the confidence to make tactical transitions on the field and go into other high-level team environments and compete.
What is the most valuable lesson that you learned in soccer?
A verbal commitment to college is not binding.
I received a 100% athletic scholarship to the University of Kentucky when I was in the 8th grade that I verbally committed to. He agreed that my scholarship was secure as long as I was academically eligible. He promised that an injury would not threaten my scholarship. He also urged me not to pursue any other colleges, as I was committed to UK and UK was committed to me. The short story is my scholarship was taken away when I was a sophomore when the head assistant coach who recruited me was released. There was no explanation for their actions, at least none that made any sense.
The situation, though very disappointing, really lit a fire in me to be the best soccer player I could be and go earn another scholarship. I felt the need to prove to myself that I was good soccer player and I could play at the Division I level.
What role models, coaches or mentors have had the most impact on your development ?
I am grateful for all of my coaches. Each one has taught me something about the game of soccer and that has made me the player I am. A few things stand out about certain coaches, but I am grateful for all of them.
Coach Aleks Filipovic from VIS Academy has really developed my technical habits and tactical knowledge of the game. When I first started training with him, he helped me refine my technical ability to have better awareness and movement off the ball. He has given me the tools to problem solve on the field and do so with different teams, coaching styles, and player’s level of play. He has made me a more complete soccer player, both technically and tactically. I am not sure what position I will be playing at Oregon State University, but I am definitely more confident that I will be able to fit in.
Coaches Mark Torguson, Jesus Mata, and Ashley Yudin from Davis Legacy taught me about strategy, game time adjustments, and overall game approach. They all did so with such kindness and support. They really made me feel part of the team. I am so grateful to play with Davis Legacy.
Coach Tommy McNaughton from SC Del Sol has taught be discipline with a no-nonsense type of approach to all things. Though it was very difficult to play with that style of coach, it did help me to truly focus on what I needed to do and then go out and take care of it.
Coach BJ Medeiros from Pono taught me how to love the game, the moments, the relationships, the competition. My most enjoyable memories were with Pono SC and coach BJ.
How big was the roll of your father/mother family in your continued development?
My parents played a huge role in my development. My mom and dad supported me at every level, from eating the right food, to playing in the mainland. My dad was and always will be a disciplinarian type of guy. He pushed me really hard; harder than I ever wanted to. At the time, I didn’t understand what the big deal was. Now I do. As I reflect on my journey I realize that I could not have done it without them and I am grateful.
What was their most important contribution?
Supporting me playing soccer in the Elite Club National League (ECNL) and making the financial commitment to allow me to travel with those teams. I feel very blessed to have played soccer with Davis Legacy in the ECNL for 4 years. It gave me the opportunity to see the level of soccer nationally and that gave me the confidence that I could play at the level. My parents enabled all of it. They worked really hard, so I could go off-island to play against the best competition in the country; for that, I am really blessed.
Amos, do you have any advice for parents that have girls wanting to become college players?
My advice would be to always seek what is best for your daughter! Do not get caught up with personal agenda from either the coach, the club, or the team. The journey is for your daughter and your family.
Another bit of advice is to make sure your athlete is developing at the pace necessary to reach your goals. It might be hard to really know what that means, but if you don’t know, ask somebody. I have seen too many great athletes not continue on to college, simply because they did not develop the skills and abilities necessary to play at that level. Most of those athletes thought they were doing enough, but unfortunately just got left behind.
Any advice for you girls aspiring to be college players on Maui?
We have a lot of athletes in Hawaii that can compete in college. I think we can do a better job learning how to be true players. I think the players need to be masters of the game and seek out coaches that can help develop mastery. Also, it takes hard work and commitment to play. You have to commit to it if you really want it.