Hawaii soccer: Seniors look to carry Wahine into tournament

Hawaii soccer seniors Kayla Watanabe, Madison Moore, Alexis Mata, Kiri Dale, Mikaelah Johnson-Griggs and Tia Furuta posed ahead of today's senior night game against UC Santa Barbara. / Photo by Darryl Oumi, Special to the Star-Advertiser 2019 October 26 - The UH Wahine Soccer seniors pose for a group photo at their practice field on the UH Manoa campus. PHOTO BY DARRYL OUMI / SPECIAL TO THE HONOLULU STAR-ADVERTISER.

Could this be the senior class that finally gets the Hawaii soccer team over the hump?

It is quite possible, but work remains to be done for the Rainbow Wahine (5-6-3, 3-0-2 Big West) to secure top-four positioning in the BWC and qualify for the conference playoffs.

Three games remain, including today’s televised contest against UC Santa Barbara (6-4-5, 2-1-2) at Waipio Peninsula Soccer Stadium. If UH (11 points in standings) can achieve three points today with a win, they’ll have all but assured themselves a berth. UCSB (eight points) is one of the teams trying to chase the Wahine down.

This year’s senior class is a diverse group, with local, mainland and international players, and four-year players and Division I transfers alike.

“I love the diversity that we have in the class. Just looking at them taking their (senior) picture today, you’ve got people from all different walks of life and all different backgrounds,” ninth-year coach Michele Nagamine said. “And that’s what Hawaii athletics is about. We’re a melting pot of diversity and culture. And that senior class is a perfect example. So I’m really proud of them. A lot of what we preach is ohana, our No. 1 core value, and you take people from all different parts of the world and country and put them together with people who grew up locally, and now they’re sisters for life. And that is one of the most rewarding things about my job.”

Here’s interviews with the team’s seniors (including fourth-year junior Tia Furuta, who decided to go out with the others) from Saturday after practice.

Mata is the face of the team, a fifth-year player and three-year full-time starter. She came into the program from Woodland, Calif., backing up Monk Berger to begin her career. She’s since become one of the best keepers in the conference, with a shot at Big West defensive player of the year. She has five shutouts this season and 12 career, tying her for second in the UH record books. Her six career Big West player of the week honors are tied for third all-time in the conference.

Watanabe, a Mid-Pacific Institute alumna, went off to Idaho for her college career and had a productive four-year run with the Vandals, scoring nine goals, including five game-winners, and helping UI to some Big Sky tournament titles. But she felt like coming home as a graduate transfer for her final year of eligibility was the right thing to do. As UH’s feisty center forward, Nagamine’s “Tutu Ninja” broke out against UC Irvine a couple of weeks ago with two goals in a key 3-0 win.

Moore is a local product as well. She was a multi-sport standout at Island School in Lihue before going off to another Big West school, Long Beach State, where she played sparingly. Normally players can play right away transferring from D-I to D-I in NCAA soccer, but not in the case of transferring within a conference, so Moore had to sit out the 2018 season after coming home to UH. She’s appeared in eight matches this season, starting two at left forward against Pac-12 powerhouses USC and UCLA.

Unfortunately for Furuta and UH, the Mililani product’s promising college career was derailed by a knee injury following the 2017 season. The former high school state player of the year was a Big West All-Freshman team selection after netting a goal with two assists in 2016. After getting hurt in an exhibition in the spring of 2018, she worked to get back in action since that time but it was clear during this preseason that she still wasn’t ready to go. Furuta recently decided to call it a career instead of coming back for her final year of eligibility in 2020.

The Beaverton, Ore., native is a rare four-year player from the mainland who stayed and played for the Wahine the whole way through. She’s a two-time Big West all-academic selection and could well make it three after this season. While she hasn’t registered a goal or assist this season, she has three of each for her career and has been a productive player in the midfield, either starting or off the bench, for Nagamine for most of her career. She’s still in the rotation in the middle.

The team’s true utility player from New South Wales, Australia, has played just about everywhere on the field in her three-year UH career since coming to UH from Division I Iona College. Forward, defender, and now mostly midfield, you name it. Dale has three career assists and has had a few close calls on scoring a goal. She has one start this season, against Nevada in the opening tournament. She could be considered a forerunner of more Aussies in the program with assistant coach Rachael Doyle likely to bring in more from Down Under, a la freshman Eliza Ammendolia.