A very tough weekend for University of Hawaii sports ended the same way.
After the UH football and volleyball teams had disappointing shortcomings — the Rainbow Warriors lost 50-20 at Fresno State for their third straight loss and the Rainbow Wahine were swept at home by UC Santa Barbara to put a severe damper on their postseason hopes — the UH soccer team had a chance to get one back for Manoa.
Alas, it could not.
With a festive crowd on hand at Waipio Peninsula Soccer Stadium and destiny seemingly laid out for the Wahine — win and you’re in — UH was turned back by Cal State Fullerton, 2-1 on senior day. That meant UC Davis, a winner at UC Riverside earlier in the day, squeaked ahead of UH with 14 points in the standings to UH’s 12.
And so it was that the Rainbow Wahine must wait at least another year to make it to the four-team Big West tournament for the first time.
UH’s surprising season, which featured its most wins in its seven years in the conference (4-4), was over at 9-7-1. The Wahine, who were exceptionally young and had only 17 field players available due to offseason injuries, were picked to finish last but rode co-captains Raisa Strom-Okimoto and Lex Mata, plus senior Sarah Lau and sophomore Lei Medeiros, among others to the second winning season in three years for Michele Nagamine. Nine wins tied for her most overall (2016).
Sole possession of fifth is the highest standing UH has attained in the Big West.
But that the season was suddenly over, and in that fashion, was tough to take. As is their custom, the Wahine graciously honored the visiting team’s seniors before their own after the game (but likely through gritted teeth this time).
“I think the season caught up with us today. It’s been a long season,” Nagamine said. “A lot of emotion, a lot of very young players getting significant minutes. We’re excited about the future. But this was tough. Yeah, we knew this game was about us. We knew this was ours to lose, and that’s exactly what we did. I thought we beat ourselves today. I’m not taking anything away from Fullerton, but one of the things that concerned me coming into the game, is when you’re playing for nothing but pride, or to be the spoiler, it can go a couple of different ways. You don’t have any pressure on you, so you just play and relax. And they capitalized on their opportunities. They took a handful of shots on goal, and two of them went in. But we had more than our fair share of chances to score, so this is all on us.”
UH came out effectively, with a few blasted balls around the Fullerton goal, but lost their touch the rest of the first half and fell behind 1-0 on Atlanta Primus’ weaving counterattack through the box.
Lau evened the score at 1 in the second half, her third goal of the season and seventh career, on a nifty spin and chip shot that represented UH’s first score against Fullerton since 2014. But after CSF went back up on Nano Oronez’s counter, UH was in scramble mode.
There was life when Strom-Okimoto was taken down in the box and drew a penalty kick with 2:21 left. Lau, who’d never attempted an official game PK in her college career, was tabbed to take the shot because of how she’d performed on them in recent practices.
— Hawaii Warrior World (@hawaiiwworld) October 29, 2018
“It’s that moment where you hold on and hope,” said Fullerton coach Demian Brown, who is 7-0 against UH. “Them missing the PK, I think is a heartbreak for them. But for us, at the end of the season and the last game and moment of the season, we finally got lucky.”
Fullerton (4-12-3, 1-5-2 Big West), the defending Big West tournament champion, recorded its first conference win in a down season.
Nagamine said it didn’t come down to the missed penalty kick.
“We had sitters in and around the box. We had 19 shots (to Fullerton’s nine),” she said. “We had more than enough opportunities to finish. I’m proud of them and I thank Raisa and Sarah for all their amazing leadership. Basically they have put us back on the soccer map. This is the most competitive we’ve been in the Big West Conference since we joined it. So we’ll be back strong next year.”
You can read the print story, including comments from Strom-Okimoto and Lau, on Monday. (Also, be on the lookout for Big West all-conference honors Monday; UH should be getting some mention there even though it did not make the tournament. Strom-Okimoto is a contender for player of the year with her BWC-leading 12 goals.)
FINAL: Cal State Fullerton 2, Hawaii 1. Just a devastating loss for Wahine on their senior day. UH is denied its first trip to the Big West tournament with a loss to the last-place team in the conference. Fullerton remains a perfect 7-0 against Hawaii as a Big West opponent.
UPDATE #8: Raisa Strom-Okimoto draws a penalty kick when she’s taken down in the box with under three minutes to play. Michele Nagamine selects Sarah Lau to take the game-tying kick … and the ball sails high. Wahine unable to get another good look in the frantic last few moments.
UPDATE #7: Time running out on Wahine — under 10 minutes to play. A couple of crossing opportunities that haven’t connected. Yellow card just given to Sophia French, the twin sister of former Wahine player Lillie French. And one to UH’s Morgan Meza for good measure.
UPDATE #6: UH again finds itself in a hole as Fullerton scores on another counterattack. This time it’s Nano Oronoz who scoots free and fires a shot that Mata gets a hand on but can’t get over the bar. 2-1 Titans, Wahine with 23 minutes to try to extend their season to at least overtime.
UPDATE #5: UH dodged a couple of bullets as Fullerton could’ve taken the lead right back with some point-blank shots. Mata had a point-blank save and UH blocked a couple more. Cristina Drossos was just yellow carded for a risky tackle with 26 minutes left in regulation.
UPDATE #4: Wahine keeping some pressure on now … and are rewarded when Sarah Lau spins on a ball in the box and chips it over the keeper and in on the far post. WPSS goes crazy as UH squares the match at 1 with 35 minutes to play. UH’s first goal against CSF since 2014.
UPDATE #3: Strom-Okimoto feeds Lei Medeiros with a great cross in the box … but Medeiros shot is deflected wide. A few minutes ago, Lex Mata made a great save on a Fullerton 2-on-1 break to keep the deficit at a goal. 35 minutes to play.
UPDATE #2: Fullerton takes its 1-0 lead into halftime, despite UH posting an 8-2 shots battle in the first half. Titans picked their spots and counterattacked effectively off of UH giveaways. This might be a good time to mention that UH hasn’t scored against CSF since 2014.
UPDATE #1: The Rainbow Wahine can’t connect on some early opportunities (Raisa Strom-Okimoto had a couple of cranked shots go wide and a corner kick sailed out of bounds) and now they’ve got some work to do. Atlanta Primus weaved her way through the box for a 25th-minute Fullerton goal. It’s 1-0 Titans.
It’s been a nice run for the Hawaii soccer team, but one that will go for naught unless the Rainbow Wahine can close the regular season with a win against nemesis Cal State Fullerton today.
UC Davis’ 1-0 win over UC Riverside on the Aggies’ senior game earlier today means that UH (9-6-1, 4-3 Big West) must collect three more points at Waipio Peninsula Soccer Stadium to remain in fourth place and qualify for its first Big West tournament. UH has 12 points and can reach 15. Davis finished the regular season at 4-2-2 for 14 points.
The game is being televised on Spectrum Sports.
If UH prevails, it will be the No. 4 seed and face No. 1 Long Beach State in the tourney semifinals in Irvine next week.
It will not be easy, despite Fullerton’s last-place standing (3-12-3, 0-5-2 Big West). The Titans are a perfect 6-0 in Big West play against the Wahine since UH joined the league in 2012, including a spoiling of UH’s senior game the last time CSF played here in 2016. The Titans are used to playing for championships and won the four-team tournament last year.
The Wahine’s two seniors, Raisa Strom-Okimoto and Sarah Lau, look to extend their careers after both scoring in a 2-0 win over Riverside on Thursday.
CSF, which is playing its last game of the season today, apparently is not content to merely play out the string. It is coming off a 1-1 draw against UC Irvine on Thursday.
Check the top of this post for updates periodically.