No Natasha, no worries for fit Hawaii
AS the Rainbow Wahine open their soccer season against Washington in the Ohana Hotels & Resorts No Ka Oi tournament tonight, the sponsor promises free T-shirts after every Hawaii goal.
Question: How many shirts did they order?
Maybe they know something we don't. Or maybe they do know what we know, and this is a can't-lose shrewd business move.
Because here's the next question: How is Hawaii going to score this year? Who do the Rainbow Wahine have who can put it in the net?
Natasha Kai, who averaged a goal a game over her UH career -- "We had one of the best strikers in the world," Wahine coach Pinsoom Tenzing said -- is off with the national team.
And it's not just Natasha gone from last year. All told, UH lost six from last year's offense, for various reasons. Some were at the end of their eligibility. Some just didn't come back.
Little sister Krisha Kai was set to move to offense this season, but she's injured, and no one knows for sure when she'll take the field again.
Still thinking you've got a shot at one of those shirts?
"We lost a lot of power," Tenzing conceded.
How is this team going to score?
But wait. Tenzing, with his British accent -- he went to the University of Punjab -- is quietly confident. The Wahine players -- as our Al Chase wrote yesterday, "The 2006 Hawaii Rainbow Wahine soccer team is young and small" -- are smiling, jumping up and down.
The defense is back, (all but) intact. The midfield looks strong.
Yes, but again, how are they going to score goals?
"As a team. I know it sounds cheesy, but that's what's the big difference between this year and last year," captain Jessica Domingo said.
"Our whole team is a threat."
And there it is. Yes, Natasha Kai is gone, and she took her 72 career goals with her. But the team is rejuvenated at the thought of no longer being a one-woman gang.
"It's not a better or worse feeling, it's just different," Domingo said. "Everyone gets along. Just the relationship between everyone, it's a feeling of camaraderie."
And that helped at 7 every morning as the Wahine attacked the offseason. They had a new trainer who devoted his entire summer to them, and they had Domingo's leadership, and "Our team is just so together," its captain said.
Quietly, Tenzing nodded, offering a Pinsoomism, calling this group "frightfully fit."
Excuse me. Did he just say "frightfully fit"?
A small laugh. A nod.
"Fighting fit," he said.
It's a soccer term, and this team looks by far to be his "fittest" yet. It will need to be. It has little firepower up front. No size. Soccer is a game of fighting for the football, of jockeying for position, boxing out like basketball players after a rebound in the air.
And this is a team that averages 5-foot-4.
If it is to score, this team can't get into all that "wrestling," Tenzing said.
How will the Wahine score goals? This team hopes to hit 'em where they ain't. It just may be fit enough to do it.
"That's the aspiration," Tenzing said.
Run all day. Play keep away. Be faster. Play together, after years of just trying to kick the ball ahead to a shooting star.
We'll see if they can do it. Bursting with anticipation, the Wahine are betting all those 7 a.m. workouts say they can.
"By far," Domingo said. "Best shape ever."
How are they going to score? Quietly, Tenzing isn't worried. "I hope they're going to prove me right," he said. The season starts tonight, without Natasha Kai. But they believe they're together, and they're fit and they're fast, working that ball all around the field.
"They're playing attractive soccer," Tenzing said.
Excuse me. Did he just say "attractive soccer"?
What does that mean?
If it works it means T-shirts for all.