For the first four games of the Hawaii soccer season, goalkeeper Lex Mata has ventured to the four corners of the pipes and all space between.
Mata, the newly minted Big West defensive player of the week, and her Rainbow Wahine teammates will now range far and wide together. UH (1-2-1) heads to the Dakotas for a groundbreaking three-game road trip spanning this week and next in the Central Time Zone. North and South Dakota are two states the program has never ventured. Nor has any player of the current Rainbow Wahine team, to the best of Mata’s knowledge.
“This will be a new experience for me personally. I haven’t visited to those two states yet, so I’m pretty excited to check them out,” said Mata, whose two shutouts last week gave her 10 for the senior’s career, tying her for third all-time at UH.
“I know (backup goalkeeper) Lauren Marquez has a friend who lives over there, but other than that I don’t really think we have any connections to North and South Dakota.”
— Hawaii Warrior World (@hawaiiwworld) September 3, 2019
Playing conditions are supposed to be mild, in the 70s, with much drier air than Honolulu. All three opponents are of the Summit League, with North Dakota State (3-0-1) up first in Fargo on Friday before UH continues to North Dakota (2-1-1) in Grand Forks on Sunday. The eight-day trip is capped at South Dakota State (2-2) on Tuesday.
The trip was a result of making good on return games for two teams that have helped fill out UH’s local tournaments in the past, per coach Michele Nagamine. SDSU is supposed to come back in 2021.
UH played a two-game tournament at Montana in 2014, the last time they were in that general vicinity. But Montana is still Mountain Time. Only very rarely has the program ventured as far East as Central Time, and most past trips to that zone were for WAC destinations like Tulsa and Louisiana Tech.
UH will try to take a newfound defensive identity with it, especially as its offense comes along in fits and starts. The last time it shut out consecutive foes was in last year’s Rainbow Wahine Shootout (which included a 2-0 win over NDSU).
Mata said her latest award — her five career Big West defensive PoW honors are tied for fourth in Big West women’s soccer history — was a product of “total team effort,” starting with the team’s forwards and working its way back.
She had to extend fully for some of her eight saves against Nevada and Sacramento State, not to mention the previous game against San Francisco to get it into overtime (when UH lost). The Dons’ two goals in regulation came on penalty kicks.
There have been leaping highlight-reel stops on balls that would’ve snuck in just below the crossbar to either side of her, and rocket shots that have caused the visiting bench to groan when Mata sprung far enough laterally to get a hand on it.
“It honestly makes me feel good knowing I can make those saves,” Mata said. “I did spend a lot of time this summer working on agility and just trying to get myself in the best shape possible. Seeing a little bit of the outcome is rewarding, for sure.”
Then-No. 5 USC earned its three goals against her in the season opener. But the Trojans, now No. 4, are 4-0 and recently knocked off defending national champion Florida State in overtime, 3-2.
“She’s been so hungry this year. I can just see it in her eyes and her body language,” Nagamine said. “The intensity she has as she approaches every training and every game with. It’s been really nice to just see how she’s grown into this very confident and just very inspiring leader. With Lex, every single thing that she does is calculated. She’s not making saves by accident. She’s in the right place. She’s getting herself set. And she’s understanding her angle play.”
Note: UH will not get to visit Mount Rushmore in Keystone, S.D. Nagamine said the drive was unfortunately too far out of the way and would’ve resulted in another travel day, something the coaches were reluctant to do given schoolwork demands on the players.
UH’s 22-player travel roster is:
GK: Lex Mata, Lauren Marquez
D: Cristina Drossos, Natalie Dixon, Natalie Daub, Elena Palacios, Taylor Mason, Emily Cottrell, Loren House
MF: Kiri Dale, Izzy Deutsch, Morgan Meza, Mikaelah Johnson-Griggs, Kylie McNamara, Michaela Rentner, Eliza Ammendolia
F: Madison Moore, McKenzie Moore, Daelenn Tokunaga, CJ Diede, Kelci Sumida, Kayla Watanabe