Losses can teach you a lot. Since losing its season opener to nationally ranked Texas A&M in lopsided fashion, a young Hawaii soccer team has figured out how to pick up tips and tricks during wins, too.
UH (3-1), which has started six freshmen at times this season, goes for its fourth straight win at 7 p.m. Friday vs. future Big West opponent UC San Diego at Waipio Peninsula Soccer Stadium.
Never mind the fact that the Tritons (2-0-1) are a Division II outfit.
“We’re in this evolutionary process as a group. And because we’re so young, every single minute we get against somebody else matters to us,” coach Michele Nagamine said.
In UH soccer’s 25-year history, there have been only eight winning streaks of four games or more. The last was two years ago, when the Wahine won five straight as part of one of their best nonconference seasons. That team withered during Big West play.
With that in mind, this year’s group is trying to take a measured approach to its success. At the same time, a 2-1 overtime win at Saint Mary’s followed by a 5-0 pasting of Pacific in Stockton, Calif., — in which five different players scored, including three for the first time in their career — had an accelerating effect.
Nagamine, for her part, realized she needed to have her team in a forward posture instead of the sitting-back counterattacking style it employed in the 4-0 loss to A&M.
The Wahine have the reigning Big West offensive and defensive players of the week in midfielder Raisa Strom-Okimoto and goalkeeper Lex Mata.
“It’s great to build their confidence, showing that what they’re doing is actually paying off and stuff,” said Strom-Okimoto, who has scored in each game of her team’s winning streak, beginning with the overtime golden goal against Bowling Green on Aug. 19. “So, I think in each of the games we were able to build connections, learn things about each other. And so ultimately that’s what we want. We want to use these games to set us up for conference, for the best chance possible.”
Sophomore center back Cristina Drossos, who had her first career goal on a header on a corner kick set piece from Izzy Deutsch at UOP, thought the road trip was an eye-opener coming off two canceled home games due to the threat of Hurricane Lane.
“(The canceled tourney) was a bummer, but I think a lot of people were looking at us wondering what we would do on our first road trip, because we missed basically that whole week,” she said. “I think we pleasantly surprised a lot of people and we proved to ourselves that we can do it if we put our mind to it.”
UC San Diego is not a typical Division II team. UCSD becomes a transitioning Division I institution and Big West member in 2020. The Tritons are ranked No. 2 among Division II teams this week, although they tied Hawaii Pacific 1-1 on Tuesday.
The Tritons parted ways with their legendary 31-year coach, Brian McManus, just prior to the season. His team was 17-2-3 last year and lost in the NCAA II quarterfinals. They’re now led by their assistant coaches on an interim basis.
“Make no doubt about it, they have known for a while that they were going Division I,” Nagamine said. “So UCSD has already been recruiting Division I caliber players. It’s just a matter of time. They are going to be instantly competitive in the Big West. That’s just the nature of the area, the demographic of soccer players they have, that they’re able to recruit. The reputation of the institution is a very good one.”
After Friday’s game, UH has only two nonconference home dates remaining — North Dakota State then Grand Canyon on Sept. 22 and 23.