Somebody has to be picked last.
In the Big West soccer ranks, that somebody is still Hawaii.
UH was tabbed ninth in the preseason coaches poll for the second straight year. UH was coming off a T-sixth finish last year at 2-5-1 (9-6-2 overall), but the departures of Storm Kenui, Addie Steiner, Monk Berger, T.J. Reyno and others factored in. Combined with the Big West expecting to field several strong teams again, there you have it.
“Actually I’m kind of surprised,” senior forward Sonest Furtado said. “I felt like we had a great year (overall) last year. I guess our record in conference wasn’t that great, but … getting picked last place two years in a row, I think that’s just going to light a bigger fire under us and make us more motivated to come out.”
UH is still attempting to qualify for its first four-team Big West tournament going into its sixth year in the conference. Long Beach State, the reigning BWC tourney champion, received eight of nine first-place votes. Cal State Fullerton, UC Santa Barbara, UC Irvine and Cal State Northridge are also expected to contend.
“It’s no secret that we are in a bit of a rebuilding year,” seventh-year UH coach Michele Nagamine said. “We’ve got some big holes to fill. … New goalkeeper, we’ve lost some scoring power, we’ve lost our center back (Kenui) who started just about every game since her freshman year. So we do have some big shoes to fill. But I’m confident. I definitely don’t think that’s where we’re going to end up.
“We’re just going to do our thing and enjoy proving people wrong.”
On the positive side for the Rainbow Wahine, junior midfielder Raisa Strom-Okimoto made the 11-player preseason all-conference team on the heels of her six-goal, eight-assist All-BWC first-team performance in 2016.
“It’s definitely exciting,” Strom-Okimoto said after Thursday’s morning practice. “It’s motivational … since I did so good last year, just to keep it going. Try to be better and try to make the team better as well.”
“I’m really happy for her,” Furtado said. “She worked really hard last year and I think she deserves it. I think that her positivity, her energy and her hard work rubs off on all of us on the field. Every day she comes out and there’s no doubt about it, you’re going to get 110 percent from her. I think just her work ethic is really great; she likes to feed it off of us and make us look really great as well as herself. She doesn’t want to shine by herself, she wants to make her teammates look good also.”
The team recently returned from a North Shore camping/bonding expedition.
Furtado pointed to the team’s fitness level reporting for fall camp and a perceived increased commitment from everyone to buy in.
“Last year we were picked last and I think a lot of Big West teams didn’t expect the way we came out,” she said. “I feel like this year we’ve improved even better from last year. So, I think it’s just really exciting and I can’t wait for us to start our season again. Just to see what we can potentially do this season is great.”
Nagamine is in the process of crafting a preferred 11-player starting group, likely in a 4-4-2 formation.
She has been encouraged by the play of her 10-player newcomer class, which includes nine freshmen and Iona transfer Kiri Dale, a redshirt sophomore.
“It’s tough, you throw a whole bunch of new people in,” Nagamine said. “But the freshmen have all bought in. They want to make us better. They’re willing to do whatever it takes to help the team. I just hope that they’re able to close the cap from a speed-of-play standpoint. But we have a lot of potential. I’m really excited about the team this year.”
UH hosts Houston Baptist in a 7 p.m. exhibition Monday at Waipio Peninsula Soccer Stadium.