2017 practice kicks off

Sarah Lau underwent power measurement training on Day 1 of UH soccer practice. / Photo by Craig T. Kojima

Even after weeks and months of offseason fitness packet work and general preparation, there’s always that moment of truth when a team gets together in totality for the first full practice of a season.

The 2017 edition of the Hawaii soccer team found time to exhale between the usual exertion of testing on Day 1 at the Manoa lower campus.

“It’s exciting to see all the girls out here,” said junior Raisa Strom-Okimoto, the team’s returning All-Big West first-team midfielder. “I know that all of them worked really hard. … This is where you prove yourself, here in preseason camp. It’s a good, competitive environment.”

Strom-Okimoto was the only sophomore on the 14-player 2016 BWC first team. (There was one freshman, Long Beach State’s Chloe Froment.)

Wednesday was the first of nine preseason double-days on their schedule. Seventh-year coach Michele Nagamine used the morning for fitness testing, with the traditional soccer reserved for the afternoon.

Sonest Furtado, Sarah Lau and Raisa Strom-Okimoto are three of the Rainbow Wahine’s most experienced returnees. / Photo by Craig T. Kojima

UH lost some especially notable players from last year’s 9-6-2 (2-5-1 BWC) sixth-place team. Big West first-team forward Addie Steiner recently signed to play professionally in Europe, and four-year starters Storm Kenui (a second-team defender) and Monk Berger are departed to graduation. Other departed players like T.J. Reyno, Ryan Daniel, Lauren Takai and Madison Reed were steady four-year presences that helped comprise the backbone of the team.

That translated to a lot of new faces on Wednesday.

“We brought in so many new players, I was really curious to see where everybody was going to be,” Nagamine said. “I think our incoming freshmen had heard all the horror stories about the sophomores’ freshman year. So they said, ‘let’s be sure we took our fitness seriously over the summer,’ and you could tell they did that. There was some very good improvements made on a personal level and of course overall on the team level.

“I’m very happy with the way that the morning went and there are some good expectations to have a follow-up season to last year’s season. We’re excited about it because I think although we have a very inexperienced group coming in, there are people who’ve been waiting a long time to play.”

Besides Strom-Okimoto, UH has experienced returnees in Dani Crawford (Utility), Paige Okazaki (D), Sarah Lau (F) and Sonest Furtado (F). Look for Alexis Mata to get first crack at filling Berger’s shoes in goal.

It sounds like defending BWC tournament champion Long Beach State could be the preseason favorite when the coaches poll comes out in about a week.

UH hosts Houston Baptist in an exhibition on Aug. 14 then opens the regular season against Utah Valley at Waipio Peninsula Soccer Stadium on Aug. 18.

Look for a full practice story in Friday’s print eition of the Star-Advertiser.