Wahine want to take the next step
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A record-setting season turned into a record-setting night at the Western Athletic Conference women's soccer banquet last night.
Seven Rainbow Wahine earned all-conference honors as Hawaii made it a clean sweep of the major awards.
Sophomore forward Ambree Ako and junior Tehane Higa earned offensive and defensive player of the year honors while Pinsoom Tenzing won his second coach of the year award.
Joining Ako and Higa on the first team were senior midfielder Jessica Domingo, forward Taryn Fukuroku, and freshman defender Nicole Mikula.
Goalkeeper Kori Lu and Chelsea Deptula were named to the second team.
Ako joined three-time winner Natasha Kai as the only Rainbow Wahine to ever win offensive player of the year honors.
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Heartbreak in the Western Athletic Conference tournament has been with senior Jessica Domingo since the beginning.
"Our freshman year, we were up 1-0 against Tulsa until the last 30 seconds," Domingo said. "Then a girl shot in a goal and we lost in (penalty kicks)."
The Rainbow Wahine soccer team, seeded first for the second time in three years, looks to end a six-year drought in the tournament when they meet the Utah State/San Jose State winner tomorrow in a semifinal game at 9:30 a.m. at the Boas Soccer Complex in Boise, Idaho.
Hawaii qualified for the postseason for the seventh consecutive year, but hasn't won since reaching the final in 2001.
It was also the top seed in '05, when the tournament was last held in Boise. It lost to Fresno State in conditions that were similar to its regular-season finale against Idaho.
"Until (Sunday), it was the ugliest weather I had ever played in," senior Koren Takeyama recalled.
Hawaii finished the regular season as the conference's most dominant team, outscoring its opponents 25-4 in league play.
Its only loss came against the Aggies, who the Rainbow Wahine will play on Friday if they get past the Spartans.
"We got exactly what we want," Hawaii coach Pinsoom Tenzing said. "Utah State beat us during the season, but I was hoping we would get them in the tournament."
The Rainbow Wahine have battled injuries all year long, but are as healthy as they have been at this stage in quite some time.
Domingo and Takeyama have provided senior leadership to a team that has three different freshmen making significant contributions.
Chelsea Deptula and Nicole Mikula have helped stabilize a defensive unit that had its share of question marks at the beginning of the season.
They have also been the most durable as the only two Rainbow Wahine to have started every game this season.
"I didn't realize (Mikula) was going to be as good as she turned out to be, and Chelsea is so dominating in the air," Tenzing said. "When I talk to other coaches they never fail to mention the two of them."
Along with Mari Punzal, it hasn't taken them long to earn the admiration and respect of the seniors.
"Young or old, we are all going through the same thing," Domingo said. "I don't really worry about our freshmen this year. They have stepped up and handled pressure all season."
Hawaii has dominated opponents with its speed and ability to control the middle of the field.
Forwards Ambree Ako and Taryn Fukuroku have been the catalysts, tying for the conference lead in goals with seven and finishing 1-2 in shot attempts.
"We need to get quality balls to our two exquisite strikers," Tenzing said. "We're going to have to be very organized in the middle of the field because I think that's where we can dominate."
If Hawaii gets past its first game, it will play in the championship on Sunday at 11 a.m. A win would secure an NCAA tournament berth for the first time in school history.
"We finally have put the pieces together to do it," Takeyama said. "Hopefully it will be the start of a new era for Hawaii soccer."