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Wednesday, November 3, 2004



[ WAC WOMEN'S SOCCER ]


art
FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
Natasha Kai and the Hawaii Rainbow Wahine face Tulsa at 7:30 tonight.


Power struggle begins

SMU looks to exit the WAC
with its fourth straight
conference title

The Western Athletic Conference women's soccer tournament title has belonged to Southern Methodist the last three years.

This is the top-seeded Mustangs' final season in the WAC before joining Conference-USA, and they would like nothing better than to leave with four consecutive championships.

WAC Soccer Tournament

All times Hawaii time

Where: Waipio Peninsula Soccer Park Stadium

First round: Today: Texas-El Paso vs. Fresno State, 5 p.m.; Hawaii vs. Tulsa, 7:30 p.m.

Semifinals: Tomorrow: Rice vs. UTEP-Fresno State winner, 5 p.m.; Southern Methodist vs. Hawaii-Tulsa winner, 7:30 p.m.

Championship: Saturday: Friday's winners, 4 p.m.

TV: Today's UH-Tulsa match live on KFVE (Ch. 5).

Radio: None.

Admission: Single-session, $8 adults, $4 UH students with a school ID, $3 youngsters age 5-18. All sessions, $20 adults, $10 UH students with a school ID, $8 youngsters age 5-18.

Parking: Free.

Series record: UH leads Tulsa, 5-1.

Last meeting: The Wahine won 2-0 at Waipio, Oct. 3, 2004.

Notes: UH is 2-4 in four tournament appearances. The Rainbow Wahine reached the final once, losing to SMU 2-0 in 2001. ... SMU has won five of the last seven WAC tournaments.

The two teams with the best chance to dethrone SMU -- Rice and Texas-El Paso -- are also leaving for C-USA, along with Tulsa, Hawaii's first-round opponent tomorrow.

The Mustangs have dominated the conference since entering the league in 1996. They are 53-6-4 (.873) in regular-season play and 12-3 (.800) in the tournament.

The women's soccer power structure definitely will change next year. Is it possible that change could begin at the Waipio Peninsula Soccer Park Stadium in the 2004 tourney that runs tomorrow through Saturday?

The two teams in the tournament that return to the WAC next year, UH and Fresno State, would have to win three matches in three days to initiate such a change.

Since the WAC went to a six-team tournament with the top two teams getting first-round byes, only San Jose State in 2000 survived three grueling matches to win the crown.

No. 2 seed Rice (13-3-3 overall) came close last season before losing the championship match 2-1 to SMU. The Owls' strength this season has been defense -- 14 shutouts in 20 matches, including nine by a 1-0 score.

WAC Defensive Player of the Week Erin Droeger leads a back line that has enabled goalkeeper Lauren Shockley to post a 0.37 goals-against average. Shockley has allowed just seven goals in 1,718 minutes guarding the net.

Freshman Clory Martin is the top goal scorer with seven.

SMU (13-3-3) plays solid defense, but the Mustangs also score, averaging almost three goals a match. The top four scorers are: WAC Offensive Player of the Week Olivia O'Rear, who has 12 goals and 10 assists; Kimber Bailey, who has found the back of the net 11 times; 2003 Punahou graduate Adria Campbell, who has eight goals; and Jill Heinemann, with six goals and seven assists.

Unless there is an upset, the Mustangs and Owls will vie for the title Saturday.

The Wahine (12-6-2) have lost four of their last seven matches, while Tulsa (7-9-3) has lost just once in its last six matches.

"We have really come together and put all the pieces in place," Tulsa coach Rena Richardson said of her team's improvement since a 2-0 loss to UH on Oct. 3. "The most obvious thing is now we are scoring goals. That helps build confidence.

"We will need to make things happen in transition against Hawaii. We've got to make those penetrating passes in the final third of the field."

Scoring goals has become a struggle for the Wahine. They have found the net just twice in the last four matches, despite taking 46 shots.

"Our practices have concentrated on offense and they have been good," UH coach Pinsoom Tenzing said. "We need to put away the chances we create and do it early.

"We cannot be overconfident because we beat them once. That would be a mistake and I'll make sure our players are mindful of that."

The Wahine have dealt with several injuries in the last month. Striker Krisha Kai is day-to-day and striker Gabrielle Bohlman and goalkeeper Mahie Atay are lost for the year.

Natasha Kai is the top UH scorer with 12 goals, but is usually marked tightly by opponents, sometimes drawing double- or triple-teams.

Carrie Schnarre leads the Golden Hurricane with eight goals and four assists. Katie Ward has five goals and eight assists.

"We know Tulsa has more confidence (than when the teams met in October)," Tenzing said. "Their morale has to be up since they qualified for the championship one rung below us."

In the other first-round match, both No. 3 seed Texas-El Paso (12-4-1) and No. 6 seed Fresno State (5-8-4) will be trying to score for the first time against each other. The teams played to a scoreless tie in the regular season.

The Miners shoot a lot -- 299 times this year -- and have outscored their opponents 41-18. They also dealt SMU its only loss and have a 5-3-1 road record.

The Bulldogs have not been as fortunate on the road, going 1-6-2. Their leading scorer with 10 goals is Cortney Sobrero, who scored one goal and assisted on the other in FSU's 2-0 win over UH two weeks ago.

Tenzing said he is impressed with how much the Bulldogs have improved under first-year head coach Steve Springthorpe.

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