UC San Diego proves its Big West worth

Lei Medeiros lined up a desperate set piece shot with 34 seconds left and UH trailing UC San Diego by a goal. / Photo by Brian McInnis

UC San Diego might as well have shouted “Put me in, Coach!” on Friday night at Waipio Peninsula Soccer Stadium.

The Division II Tritons fully looked the part of a Division I member of the Big West Conference — their destiny in two years — in a 2-1 win over Hawaii, in which the visitors came out like gangbusters and turned back several choice UH shots in the second half.

Coming into Friday, the only time UH lost to a non-Division I team in its history was to — you guessed it — UC San Diego, back in 1997 when the Tritons were a Division III team and beat the Rainbow Wahine 3-0 in San Diego.

UCSD (3-0-1), ranked No. 2 in D-II, pulled off a sort-of-but-not-really upset despite a flurry of UH shots late, including the second career score of junior midfielder Mikaelah Johnson-Griggs from about 25 yards out in the 79th minute. UH (3-2) saw its three-game winning streak snapped.

“They’re ranked No. 2 in the country for a reason. They’re a fantastic team,” UH coach Michele Nagamine said. “They’re very athletic, they’ve got some pace. Their players, they never give up. I have a lot of respect for their program. I knew from the beginning as soon as they joined the Big West they were going to be competitive, because they’re competitive as a Division II team. Once they get the funding and budgets down, it’s just a matter of time. They’re a program that’s long been an NCAA powerhouse at their level, and they play Division I teams all the time and give them fits. We were the unfortunate victims today, but that’s on us.”

UCSD assistant coach Trent Painter spoke afterward for his team, which parted ways with legendary 31-year coach Brian McManus just before the season. In 2020, UCSD begins the first of four years as a provisional D-I team.

“We’re not quite there yet, but we’re definitely now recruiting for that jump,” Painter said. “I think our girls now, especially after this performance, we have a good group. But the Big West is a tough conference. And there’s still some pieces that we’re gonna need to fill, especially with these seniors leaving this year and next year. So, there’s still some preparation for us getting in the Big West.”

UCSD tied Hawaii Pacific 1-1 here on Tuesday. As if in atonement, the Tritons did their damage early Friday, with netted balls from Megumi Barber and Mary Reilly in the 15th and 18th minutes. Barber caught the UH defense off guard with a launched ball from 45 yards out. Reilly followed up with some nice moves and a banger from just outside the box.

Co-captain Raisa Strom-Okimoto (six shots, three on goal) had a few near misses and shots saved, while Lei Medeiros (five shots) fired a rocket off the crossbar. The final shot count was 17-10 in UH’s favor.

Johnson-Griggs skipped one in from 25 yards in the 79th minute to bring the Wahine within a goal but several desperate shots in the final 10 minutes were turned back.

“We’ve always been told the worst lead is 2-0 because you can get one goal and from then on the momentum keeps rolling,” Johnson-Griggs said. “So after that first goal I was thinking we could get that momentum and come back. We did; we got a bunch of shots off. We just couldn’t finish. We had so many shots.”

UH was without outside midfielder Izzy Deutsch. UH did not elaborate on the reason for her absence but Nagamine said she is expected back for the coming road trip.

The sun goes down on Waipio Peninsula Soccer Stadium. / Photo by Brian McInnis
UH huddled up at halftime down 2-0 to UCSD. / Photo by Brian McInnis