FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
Taryn Fukuroku, Jessica Domingo and Koren Takeyama are three returnees expected to help the Hawaii women's soccer team this season.
Wahine coach expects best team ever
Two Western Athletic Conference titles.
More than 100 wins.
Yes, Pinsoom Tenzing has seen it all in his 13 seasons as Rainbow Wahine soccer coach.
However, the only head coach in the program's history thinks all of that could be trumped by this year's squad.
The 2007 season gets under way tomorrow night as Hawaii hosts the OHANA Hotels & Resorts No Ka Oi soccer tournament at the Waipio Peninsula Soccer Stadium.
The Wahine open with Kansas at 7 p.m. and square off against Auburn on Monday at the same time.
"I haven't been more excited about a team than I am about this season." Tenzing said.
It's a cliché many coaches call on, but the numbers don't lie.
Hawaii returns all 11 starters from last year's squad that went 6-2-2 to open the season. Injuries decimated the Wahine, and were the primary reason Hawaii dropped its final five games. UH lost six starters over the course of the year.
The injury bug has reared its ugly head again this year.
First-team All-WAC forward Taryn Fukuroku is "50-50" for the opener. Senior defender Koren Takeyama, another first-team all-conference preseason selection, is also out recovering from a torn ACL suffered in the spring. She hopes to be back for the start of conference play.
"This season we're getting the injuries early," Tenzing said. "But I'd rather have injuries early than late because the games of consequences are at the end."
Fukuroku had a breakout season last year. She led the team in points (22), assists (6) and shots (71) and tied for the team lead in goals with eight. She will find out today whether she is cleared to play.
As has been the case in years past, Hawaii is one of the smaller teams in the country. Only six players are taller than 5-foot-6.
But what the Wahine lack in size, they make up in team speed.
They are known for their frantic pace on the field. It can be very taxing at times, but can also overwhelm opposing teams. It's also one of the primary reasons for Tenzing's excitement at this year's possibilities.
"We're finally playing the kind of soccer he likes to coach," senior Jessica Domingo said.
"Everybody is really coachable, and we've given in to the style of play that he wants."
Domingo, a three-year starter, will anchor the midfielders. Alexis Choi and Kristen Oshiro made 39 of the 42 starts at the position a year ago, but could be pushed by a talented group of freshmen.
That group includes reigning Star-Bulletin high school player of the year Mari Punzal and Mililani graduate Chelsea Deptula. Nicole McClure is another talented freshman and will back up junior Kori Lu at goalkeeper, who has started all but two games in her career.
Rounding out the talented incoming class is Nicole Mikula, a 5-foot-2 forward from Pennsylvania. She was a four-year starter and a three-time all-conference selection in high school, and was labeled as a Soccer Buzz Top 150 recruit.
"Even if all the starters are back, it's a totally different team and a totally different chemistry," Domingo said. "They are a really solid class and we can play them just about anywhere."
Despite the excitement shared by both players and coaches, the Wahine were recently picked to finish fifth in the WAC by the league coaches. The preseason poll surprised a few of the players, who plan on using it as motivation.
"It just recently made us realize a lot of people are doubting us," Takeyama said. "Hopefully it will make us want to show everyone we are better than that."
The poll obviously didn't reflect the sentiments of Tenzing, who has seen the program rise and fall throughout his 13 seasons at the helm.
Last year was his first losing season since 2000, ending a streak of six winning seasons that included two conference titles.
For everything that went wrong a season ago, he expects things to turn around. If they do, it could be a memorable season for an experienced Wahine squad.
"This is a very good team that had bad misfortunes last year," Tenzing said. "I think that will be rectified this year and this will be the best team we have ever had."