As Roosevelt forward Brad Pena goes, so does the Rough Riders soccer team.
While first-year coach Nick Blair continues to implement the nuances of his program, he has come to rely on Pena for help both on and off the field. Blair got acquainted with Pena while teaching him last year in a building and construction class, and after taking the reins of the team this season, his senior captain has served as the key cog of the program’s success.
"I’ve had him in class, and just seeing an overall growth, he’s a terrific kid and it’s been a pleasure working with him," Blair said. "He brings everything. Skill-wise, everyone looks up to him. It helps to have a player to see a model of what we need, and what is possible. It makes my job easier, and he’s an overall great guy to have on the team."
Pena leads the Oahu Interscholastic Association Red Conference in scoring with 11 goals. The senior has been instrumental in leading Roosevelt to a 3-3-1 mark — good for third place in the OIA Red East — by notching hat tricks in each of his squad’s three victories.
"It’s a surprise; I didn’t expect to score a hat trick in three straight games," Pena said. "I’ve been working on my shooting skills, and my positioning, so I’m in the right place at the right time."
The scoring spree started in the Rough Riders’ third game of the season when Blair moved Pena up to the forward position. The move sparked a three-match winning streak, which was halted by a scoreless tie against Kalaheo. Pena sat out that game while recovering from a concussion. The senior returned Saturday to face undefeated league leader Kaiser, and tallied a goal in the 4-2 defeat.
Pena credits Blair’s installation of an offseason conditioning program for the team’s solid start thus far.
"We didn’t do that before," said Pena of the offseason program, which got the players’ legs in shape for the season, and two to three matches per week. "Our whole team can last the entire game now, and we feel like we can keep up with the other teams."
Roosevelt will lean on Pena throughout the remainder of the regular season, which features four more matches — three against teams in the bottom half of the standings — in hopes of securing a favorable seed in the OIA postseason tournament. Finishing in the OIA Red East’s top two positions in order to secure a bye in the tournament’s first round, advancing to the OIA championship game, and making a strong showing in the state tournament are the team’s goals.
"We have high expectations, and are still working to get to where we want to be," Blair said. "We lost our first two games, but we weren’t discouraged and showed that with three straight wins. We’re learning how to handle adversity, and making progress. We don’t want to overlook anything, and want to be peaking when we hit the playoffs."
Pena has expressed interest in studying engineering when he moves on to college, and while he has no scholarship offers yet, he would like to attend Notre Dame de Namur — a California school that competes at the Division II level and belongs to the Pacific West Conference, of which four Hawaii colleges are members.
"I’m just taking things as they come, and going along with the season," Pena said. "It’s my last year, so I’m just trying to have fun."