Hawaii soccer: Wahine seek first result in a Big West opener

Kelci Sumida kneed the ball against Washington State on Sept. 19. Sumida leads UH with two goals heading into conference play. / Photo by Andrew Lee, Special to the Star-Advertiser

Big West openers have not gone well for the Hawaii soccer team. Home, away, it has not mattered.

Seven losses in seven such games to date, in fact. Last season was the most painful of the bunch, as the Rainbow Wahine gave up a goal with five seconds left in double overtime at UC Irvine — five seconds from getting their first result and a point in the league standings right off the bat.

Thus, UH has always played from behind when it comes to making the Big West tournament, and has never caught up. Its best finish to date was last year (4-4-1), sole possession of fifth. That loss at Irvine to start things off proved costly (though not as costly as last year’s 2-1 loss to last-place Cal State Fullerton on senior night).

But the Wahine (2-6-1 in 2019 nonconference) get a chance to rewrite that sour narrative today, as the schedule lays out advantageously for them in the early portion of the conference season. They get Cal State Northridge (6-3-3) tonight at 7 in the first of two straight single-game weeks at Waipio Peninsula Soccer Stadium.

“I think it is (an optimal start to the league schedule),” ninth-year coach Michele Nagamine said. “Getting a team like CSUN this early in conference play, I think it’s a good thing, especially in a one-game weekend. … Getting CSUN under the lights at Waipio, we should have a lot of energy. We’re pretty well rested.

“(A result) would prove to other people what we’ve been saying all season long. This team can be competitive with anybody.”

The post-Raisa Strom-Okimoto era has gone about as expected as the Wahine have had to rebuild their offense. UH has only scored five goals in nine games this season. They’ve been blanked five times. Freshman forward Kelci Sumida leads with two goals, both on headers.

Nagamine feels better about the team’s offensive third than she did before an 11-day break following a 4-0 loss to then-No. 5 UCLA on Sept. 22.

“The confidence level overall is like night and day. The shot selection is better. A lot of the shots are on target, on frame. We’ve made our keepers really work hard. So I think in respect it’s good, but everything in the run of play against an opponent, and with pressure because it’s a conference game, for me, I can’t wait to see them in action against somebody else, because they’re starting to understand the framing of the goal.”

The UH defense, led by senior goalkeeper Lex Mata, has performed respectably, with 14 goals allowed in nine games. Seven of the goals were scored by UCLA and another top-five team, USC.

UH is 15-37-6 in Big West games since joining the league in 2012.

Here’s the year-by-year of UH’s Big West openers:
2012: at Cal State Northridge, 0-2 L
2013: at Cal State Fullerton, 1-2 L, OT
2014: Cal State Fullerton, 1-2 L
2015: UC Santa Barbara, 0-3 L
2016: at Cal Poly, 1-2 L
2017: at UC Davis, 0-1 L
2018: at UC Irvine, 0-1 L, 2OT
2019: Cal State Northridge, ??