Rainbow Wahine intent on defending WAC soccer championship
The pressure to win the school's first Western Athletic Conference soccer title has been replaced by something much greater: The challenge to defend it.
OHANA Hotels & Resorts No Ka Oi tournament at Waipio Peninsula Soccer Stadium
» Hawaii vs. Long Beach State, 7 p.m.
» Long Beach State vs. Denver, 5 p.m.
» Hawaii vs. Denver, 4 p.m.
Last year was a groundbreaking one for the Rainbow Wahine soccer team. Hawaii won its first conference championship, appeared in the NCAA tournament for the first time and broke more than 30 school records.
With nine starters back this season, including reigning WAC defensive player of the year Tehane Higa and offensive player of the year Ambree Ako, there's no reason to think this team can't do it again.
"Expectations are higher, but I feel very confident," said Pinsoom Tenzing, now in his 15th season as coach. "If we're injury-free, I think they'll have an easier time this year to accomplish what they did last year. That is my hope."
Hawaii won't be able to sneak up on teams as it did a year ago, when it was picked to finish in the middle of the pack. The defending champions were tagged as the conference's best team by every other coach in the league and had five players make the preseason All-WAC squad.
"Last year we were picked fifth and didn't have that much pressure on us," Higa said. "But this year we're picked first, we're the defending champions and everyone is gunning for us so there's much more pressure now."
Hawaii opens the season tomorrow when it faces Long Beach State in the OHANA Hotels & Resorts No Ka Oi tournament at 7 p.m. at Waipio Peninsula Soccer Stadium.
The Rainbow Wahine went undefeated at home last season, but tomorrow's game is one of only seven they play in Hawaii.
Eleven of their 18 regular-season games are on the road, where they haven't had a winning season since 2003 and are just 9-17-3 over the last three years.
"We're going to have to perform well on the road," Tenzing said. "We have to deal with the rigors of playing on the road and if they're tough psychologically, I think they should be OK."
The other concern for the Rainbow Wahine is figuring out how to replace three-time, All-WAC player Jessica Domingo, who Tenzing called "the heart of the team" last season.
"That's a biggie. She controlled the middle of the field and she made everything happen in the middle of the field," Tenzing said. "But most importantly is she was exceedingly responsible on defense. She took it very personally every time a goal was scored. We're going to have to dig deep and look hard to find somebody."
UH's defense was one of the best in the nation last season, allowing 22 goals in 22 games.
The offense shouldn't miss a beat as Hawaii's top nine goal scorers are all back, including Ako and senior Taryn Fukuroku, who tied for the team lead with 12.
With so much experience on the field, Tenzing says it's the perfect situation for a coach to be in.
"The preparation is not different, but it's easier," he said. "They don't really need a coach to know what to do out there. It makes my job easier.
"They know how it is we want them to play and they're in a position to bring the younger kids along with them. When competition begins (tomorrow), they are coaching themselves on the field and that's the best situation to have."