Hawaii soccer: Big West tournament window narrows on senior night

UC Santa Barbara's Shaelan Murison lined up a goal, one of her three on the day, as Hawaii's Loren House closed in on the play. UCSB went on to win 4-1 on UH's senior night. / Photo by Bruce Asato, Star-Advertiser

Hawaii was unable to break the senior night spell Sunday at Waipio Peninsula Soccer Stadium.

The Rainbow Wahine ran their winless streak in home finales to six with a 4-1 defeat at the hands of UC Santa Barbara, a blow to the team’s Big West standing with two road matches to play.

Unlike last year’s 2-1 fatal loss to last-place Cal State Fullerton, hope remains for the Wahine to make their first Big West Conference tournament. But it just got a bit tougher.


The good news for UH (5-7-3, 3-1-2 BWC) is that it will play two struggling teams, UC Davis (2-5 BWC) on Thursday and Long Beach State (2-4) on Sunday. The bad news is both those teams will be celebrating their senior nights against the Wahine, and under normal circumstances teams are tough to beat under that backdrop.

UH will likely need at least one win for three points in those two games.

After Gauchos senior forward and BWC offensive player of the year candidate Shaelan Murison dropped a hat trick on UH, UH dropped into a tie with Santa Barbara (7-4-5, 3-1-2) in points (11). However, now UCSB has the edge on UH in a tiebreaker scenario. Cal State Fullerton (15 points) and Cal State Northridge (12) are still the top two. The other teams on the outside of the current top four with tournament hopes are UC Irvine (10 points, 3-2-1) and LBSU (6 points).

As frustrating as it was to have its senior night struggles extended in such lopsided fashion — UH was only really in the match for about a 20-minute span in the second half after Kayla Ryan’s penalty kick goal made it 2-1 — coach Michele Nagamine was not about to hit the panic button after a two-game home week that saw the Wahine net a single standings point.

“It’s been a long conference season. You know, we’ve been kind of going through every game and we’ve been experiencing a lot of firsts,” she said. “For a young team, I think we’ve handled the pressure with the exception of tonight pretty well. I could tell from our warmup that we just weren’t on our game, and despite everything I tried to say or do, we just couldn’t get it going. You could tell it was a collectively poor performance all over the place.”

It was some of the same slow-start issue that plagued UH in a 1-1 draw with Cal Poly on Thursday, a match the Wahine felt they should have won.

“Honestly, yeah, we came out a little frantic, a little slow. It was a repeat of the Cal Poly game,” senior goalkeeper Lex Mata said. “It’s a shame we couldn’t learn from Thursday and bring it here. I do take responsibility for not coming out and installing the confidence in my back line like I should’ve. It’s just a game I wish I could have back. But it’s senior night and I’m going to try to enjoy it while I have it.”

Goalkeeper Alexis Mata got a hug from Daena Tokunaga, mother of Hawaii sophomore Daelenn Tokunaga, while senior Mikaelah Johnson-Griggs greeted people behind her. / Photo by Bruce Asato, Star-Advertiser
Alexis Mata, Mikaelah Johnson-Griggs, Kiri Dale, Kayla Watanabe, Madison Moore and Tia Furuta were honored postgame / Photo by Bruce Asato, Star-Advertiser

Senior forward Kayla Watanabe, who was celebrating her second straight senior night after doing so at Idaho last year, was able to enjoy this senior ceremony with her family and friends. She was calm about placing the team’s overall goals in perspective.

“We were slow at the start but they definitely took it to us, capitalized on some of our mistakes,” the Mid-Pac alumna said. “At halftime we said, ‘we can fix this, this is our thing.’ And unfortunately they were able to get back a couple goals after. But I definitely think going on the road, we know what we have to fix, we know what we have to do. And I’m confident we’ll be OK.”

As Watanabe said, surging late had been UH’s “thing.” From the very start of Big West play against CSUN, when Ryan jump-started UH with a late goal in regulation then the winner in OT, UH made a habit of coming back. But Sunday, UCSB left no doubt in displaying its finishing move — a ruthless goal from Murison in which she dribbled past defenders along the goal line and punched it in for the hat trick (and her Big West-leading 16th score) with 10.1 seconds left.

That caused Nagamine to grit her teeth a bit when she presented Murison and the other Gaucho seniors with a lei postgame, as is the Wahine custom for visiting seniors on UH senior night.

Murison said afterward that UCSB thought it could beat UH by going over the top of the defense. That was certainly the case on UCSB’s first two goals, as she worked her way behind and showed off her deft dribbling and shot-faking ability, which froze the D on more than one occasion.

“I think she was very adamant about making a statement tonight,” Nagamine said. “You gotta just take your hat off to that. It was just a tremendous offensive performance. You know, she could’ve easily dribbled to corner to kill the clock, but she wanted a hat trick. She’s just that kind of competitor.”

This UH team has proven it can get results on the road in conference. It is 1-0-1 in such games so far, including a confidence-boosting 1-1 draw at Fullerton when UH had been 0-7 against the Titans in Big West play previously.

“Going on the road now for two games, you know, Davis knocks off CSUN today, Long Beach loses to Irvine 2-1 but scores first, that’s the nature of the Big West. It’s a crazy beast,” Nagamine said.

Through Nov. 14

Cal State Fullerton5-0-31814-3-4.762
Cal State Northridge5-3-01512-7-3.614
UC Santa Barbara4-1-3158-5-6.579
Cal Poly3-3-2116-10-3.395
UC Irvine3-3-2114-12-2.278
Long Beach State2-5-174-12-1.265
UC Davis2-6-067-11-0.389
UC Riverside1-7-033-14-1.194