It was a trip to remember for the Hawaii soccer team.
The program’s first foreign tour, to Spain during spring break, left UH coach Michele Nagamine with more than a few lasting memories. The team passed through soccer-crazed cities Barcelona and Madrid between March 24 to April 2.
“It’s so cliche, but (it was) that once-in-a-lifetime experience, I think it was a once-in-a-lifetime trip,” she said recently. “We kept them really, really busy from morning every day until night. Jam-packed with games, all these sightseeing excursions. So much cultural experience. But it was really, really cool because when else are you going to be able to travel with all your soccer sisters going to Europe. It was such a beautiful place too on top of everything else. I think it’s going to be one of those indelible experiences that you’re going to remember forever.”
Nagamine had never been there, though assistant coach Ashley O’Brien had been with one of her former teams, Brown, and assistant Marc Fournier, a native of France, had visited as well.
The purpose of the trip was both for competition purposes and cultural/educational value.
UH went 2-0 in its exhibitions over second division club teams Sant Gabriel and Rayo Vallecano, and took in a few men’s and women’s pro games.
All of the 2016 team went except for Addie Steiner and Storm Kenui, who were going through pro tryouts, and senior defender Elise Wassner.
The remaining outgoing seniors hadn’t trained much since the season ended.
“Everybody played, but the seniors played very sparingly,” Nagamine said. “They were such a special class to us and really helped to kind of elevate the program again. We wanted to honor them with an international tour. This senior class has been very resilient and they’ve seen the best and the worst. I thought they were very deserving of an international tour.”
Before the first game, against Sant Gabriel in Barcelona, UH was sightseeing all day, but its tour ran late. They ate a full meal at 5 p.m. with the game at 7.
“We all sit down for dinner … and out comes the french fries and the breaded beef cutlet,” Nagamine said with a laugh. “I texted a coach, ‘Uh oh. I hope we don’t get killed. And I hope people don’t have to barf before the game.’ It’s not what you would feed a team before a game. But hey, in Spain, we’re going to do what the Spaniards do.”
After a slow start — UH went down 1-0 — the team came back to win 2-1 on a pair of goals by Raisa Strom-Okimoto.
All three goalkeepers — Monk Berger, Alexis Mata and Evelyn Fierros — split time in that game. Berger bowed out for the second game, a 3-0 win over Rayo Vallecano, leaving duties to the candidates for future starter Mata and Fierros.
Since arriving back home, UH drew with two teams in its final spring competitions against HPU and the FC Hawaii U-16 boys squad.
UH is typically a smaller and more technical team than most of its Division I competition, but experienced some role reversal in both games in Spain.
“It was pretty much what we expected,” Nagamine said of the competition. “We figured they would be very tactically savvy and very technically sound because it’s the nation’s game, right? The kids were quite pacey, very high pressure. Except the physicality of our game took them out of their game a little bit. We played second division teams (because) if we played first division teams we were going to get killed, because those are professionals.”
Other highlights included the food, the spiffy tour bus and spectating a women’s champions league game, FC Barcelona vs. FC Rosengard.
“For the girls to see a women’s champion league game in the Barcelona mini stadium, I think that was so cool,” Nagamine said.
“For me I think the highlight was, Day 1 in Barcelona, we saw some really cute little towns, but the day we went to the Sagrada Familia Basilica, that was amazing. Simply, simply a gorgeous cathedral. It was a highlight for me. One of the most beautiful, impressive things I’ve seen.”
Per NCAA rules, programs may take foreign tours every four years.
The team fundraised about $1,000 per person prior to the trip and has $2,800 per person remaining to pay off, an amount fronted by players’ families. Nagamine said fundraising efforts will continue until the families can be fully compensated.
Up next for the soccer Wahine is the Bowling with the ‘Bows fundraiser on April 29 in conjunction with the UH women’s basketball team.
The event goes from 5 to 10 p.m. at Aiea Bowl. The base package is $100 per bowler, but non-bowlers are invited to come “drink and mingle,” per Nagamine.