In what’s seemingly become a rite of passage in the month of August, the Hawaii soccer team must deal with the knowledge that expectations of it around the Big West Conference are low. At the bottom, in fact.
UH, the last-place (ninth) finisher in the conference two of the last three seasons, was tabbed to finish ninth yet again in the preseason coaches poll and all-conference team released Thursday. UC Irvine was picked to win.
The Rainbow Wahine, 6-10-1 (1-6-1 BWC) in 2017, at least have senior midfielder Raisa Strom-Okimoto on the 11-person preseason team. The Aiea alumna was second among the Wahine in goals and assists last season with three and two.
RSO is one of two seniors on the roster, along with Sarah Lau. They will look to set the tone for a young team in the season opener in little more than a week, Aug. 17 vs. powerhouse Texas A&M at Waipio Peninsula Soccer Stadium.
“I think it’s been nice to see the maturity, the evolution that Raisa and Sarah have been going through,” eighth-year coach Michele Nagamine said. “I feel like I’ve kind of had a front-row seat to watch the progress that they’ve made.
“It hasn’t been easy. There’s been a lot of tears and frustration along the way. That’s not the easiest position to find yourself in as a player. But I think as they took some steps back and looked at the big picture, they bought in even more. I’d love to see them come full circle. We’d love to get to the (four-team) Big West tournament (for the first time). Not for anybody else but us. We don’t give a rip about if they vote us first, if they vote us last. We don’t care about making history. We care about doing the right things and trying to send our seniors off on that note.”
Although Strom-Okimoto is the most decorated returnee, she said recently — following a team bonding getaway up in Mokuleia — she does not feel pressure to shoulder an outsized scoring load this season.
“No, I don’t,” she said. “I feel that what we’ve been going over, every player on the field playing their role, and I think as long as I play my role in helping my teammates around me, and everyone else playing their role, we’ll be fine. We have a lot of freshmen (10), too. They have big shoes to fill, and it’s just more about being there for them and making sure they don’t have to take all this pressure on by themselves. We can work together.”
She noted they’ve been going over more film in the preseason than her previous seasons.
“The difference I think from this year and last year as actually having a lot of thought process on the field,” Strom-Okimoto said. “We had a lot of time to reflect and look back on the season and what we struggled with. We’re kind of putting those into actions now and working on it, getting the younger girls up to pace with it and going with it together.”
Nagamine hopes that a new fitness/strength and conditioning approach under new assistant coach Rachael Doyle will pay dividends with longevity during the eight-game Big West season, particularly with an “intimate” roster of just 17 active field players.
“We’ve approached this season with quality is better than quantity, and I think … we have to err on the side of caution because we do have an intimate roster,” Nagamine said. “I wouldn’t trade this team for the world. They’re a fun, fun group to train, because they’re really competitive, and every single one in their own way is dying to make us better. And that says a lot about them as people.”