Wahine open WAC against the league’s top 2 teams
The Rainbow Wahine soccer team can forget about easing its way into conference play.
Hawaii (7-3-2) opens the Western Athletic Conference season this weekend with crucial games against the top two teams in the league, according to preseason rankings.
The Rainbow Wahine face Nevada, last year's WAC tournament champion, tomorrow night before hosting Fresno State, regular-season champion from a year ago, on Sunday.
The Wolf Pack and Bulldogs were ranked 1-2 in a preseason poll voted on by coaches. Hawaii was picked fifth.
"I'm very happy to be playing them at home," Hawaii coach Pinsoom Tenzing said. "They are the cream of the crop and are coming on strong for the WAC season."
The Rainbow Wahine snapped a seven-match road losing streak on Sunday with a 1-1 tie against Pepperdine.
It has been a tale of two teams for the Rainbow Wahine this season.
At home, they look unstoppable, with seven wins and a tie in eight games. They average nearly four goals a game and have outscored their opponents 30-5.
The road has been an entirely different story. In four games, the Rainbow Wahine have scored just two goals and given up 11.
"I don't know what it is," senior Jessica Domingo said. "I don't know if it's because we're sluggish or we're lazy, but on the road we are playing a lot worse."
The Rainbow Wahine will be out for revenge against a Nevada team that scored eight goals in two games against Hawaii last year. The Wolf Pack ended Hawaii's season by beating them in the WAC postseason tournament.
"We haven't forgot that," sophomore forward Ambree Ako said. "We want to come out and beat these guys."
Hawaii has struggled with injuries all season. Fifteen different players have started at least one game.
The Rainbow Wahine won't be fully healthy "until the middle of next week" according to Tenzing.
"In practically all of the games we haven't had our best 11 players on the field," Tenzing said.
Hawaii can't wait to get healthy. With just seven total league matches, the Rainbow Wahine will need to earn at least a split in these two games if they want to contend for the WAC title.
Every road game expects to be a struggle for Hawaii, which makes protecting its home field even more important.
The Wolf Pack are riding a three-game winning streak, while Hawaii has lost five of its last six conference games.
"We need to put extreme pressure on the ball," Tenzing said. "Every single kid on the team has to want the ball and then she has to keep it."
Here's a quick look at the WAC based on its preseason rankings as voted on by the coaches (current record in parentheses):
1. Nevada (4-5-1)
The reigning WAC champions have overcome a slow start by winning their last three matches. They return eight starters from last year's team, including five All-WAC honorees. Freshman Cristen Drummond has stepped in right away and leads the team with five goals.
2. Fresno State (5-5-0)
Last year's WAC coach of the year, Steve Springthorpe, guides a team known for its defense. The Bulldogs became the first school in WAC history to not allow a goal in conference play in 2006. Goalkeeper Kaity Revel has four shutouts this season, tied for tops in the conference. Junior Nicole Gutierrez leads the team with six goals.
3. Utah State (4-8)
The Aggies return nine starters from last year's squad that set a school record with five conference victories. Senior Dana Peart has five goals and two assists this season. Sophomore defender Lindsey Smart was a preseason WAC co-defensive player of the year and has started every game in her career.
4. San Jose State (2-8-2)
The Spartans have made it to the semifinals of the WAC tournament in each of the past two years, but haven't had a winning season since 1999. Reigning WAC offensive player of the year Nicole Irwin has just three points in 12 games. Junior Jessica Scott has picked up the scoring slack with four goals in eight games.
5. Hawaii (7-3-2)
The Rainbow Wahine enter conference play with the best winning percentage of any team. They are undefeated (7-0-1) at home and one game shy of tying the school record for consecutive home victories. Junior goalkeeper Kori Lu has tied the school record for career solo shutouts with 10.
6. Boise State (4-5-2)
Freshman Shannon Saxton leads the conference with 11 goals and 26 points. The Broncos have had winning seasons in each of the past three years. Sophomore goalkeeper Jennifer Burns is tied for second in the conference with three shutouts and has a 1.54 goals-allowed-per-game average. Boise State is second to Hawaii in goals, assists and points.
7. Idaho (4-7-0)
Sophomore goalkeeper Anna Sandman leads the WAC with 68 saves and has four shutouts. The Vandals have just two seniors on a team that did not win a game last year. Idaho enters conference play with its best record since 2001. Jennifer Hull leads the team with five goals.
8. Louisiana Tech (2-8-0)
Youth has been the story for the Lady Techsters, as all but one goal this season have been scored by freshmen. Kiva Greshman has four of those. They have been outscored 26-8 this season, but have won two of their last three games after opening with seven straight defeats.