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StarBulletin.com

Rainbow Wahine have solid core


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POSTED: Thursday, August 20, 2009

Looking at everything the Hawaii women's soccer team lost from last season can make this year's outlook seem troubling.

Among the six starters that have moved on include 2008 Western Athletic Conference offensive player of the year Taryn Fukuroku and defensive player of the year award winners Nicole Mikula ('08) and Tehane Higa ('07).

And that's without mentioning goalkeeper Kori Lu, who started 78 of the 80 games played the last four seasons.

Some losses were obvious because they were seniors, but Mikula and backup goalkeeper Nicole McClure were only sophomores last year before transferring in the offseason.

Fortunately, what's left is still good enough to be ranked second in the preseason WAC poll. Ambree Ako, the 2007 offensive player of the year, and talented preseason All-WAC juniors Mari Punzal and Chelsea Deptula are reasons head coach Pinsoom Tenzing is confident the team can win a second WAC title in three years.

“;We made some changes in the way we're doing business,”; Tenzing said. “;But barring any calamities, we'll be fine.”;

Tenzing is entering his 16th season as the school's only women's soccer head coach. He's an even .500 (132-132-26) during that span and finally broke through two years ago with Hawaii's first ever WAC championship.

The Rainbow Wahine were favored to repeat as champions a year ago, but a rash of injuries plagued Hawaii, which lost in the first round of the tournament to sixth-seeded Nevada.

The quick end to a promising season has taught this year's returnees a key lesson they'll need to follow in order to add a second WAC title to the trophy case.

“;We lost that mind-set of playing for each other,”; Ako said. “;It was more of an individual game and I think this year we're coming together more as a team and I'm pretty sure we can win it all, hopefully, if we work hard enough.”;

Hawaii has questions in goal for the first time in years as redshirt freshman Kanani Taaca and newcomer Kristina Ehrett battle for the starting job. Neither one has collegiate experience, but Tenzing is committed to playing one over the other instead of rotating the two.

“;We play the first 11, so they know that from the get-go,”; Tenzing said. “;Depending on who we pick, we'll be fine.”;

Hawaii opens the season with the OHANA Hotels and Resorts No Ka Oi Tournament, which begins tomorrow. The Rainbow Wahine host No. 25 Brigham Young at 7 p.m. and play No. 2 Stanford on Sunday.

Hawaii is 2-20-1 all-time against ranked teams, but both wins have come in the last two years.

“;We just have to focus on playing our game and working well as a team and not what they're doing,”; Deptula said.

;*;*;*

The following is a brief look at the entire UH roster by position (*-redshirt):

FORWARDS

Ambree Ako, Sr.; Britta Bourne, Sr.; Skye Shimabukuro, Fr.; Jessica Marote, Fr.

Breakdown: Ako will have a new running mate at the front of the Hawaii attack after spending three years alongside Fukuroku, who finished her career in the top three all-time in points (74), goals (27) and assists (20). Bourne, a transfer from Montana, got off to a good start with the only two goals for Hawaii in a scrimmage against Pearl City United on Tuesday.

Ako will look to add to an already steady career. She's the school's all-time leader in game-winning assists (eight) and ranks in the top five in points (62), goals (23) and assists (16).

Shimabukuro, the Kauai Interscholastic Federation player of the year as a senior, and Marote, an honorable mention all-state selection from Kamehameha-Hawaii, could be the next Ako/Fukuroku duo down the road.

MIDFIELDERS

Mari Punzal, Jr.; Kristyn Shapka, Sr.; Kelsie Look, Sr.; Vanessa Bailey, Sr.; Bree Locquiao, Fr.; Shauna Musser, Sr.; Laura Euers, Jr.; Christy Watanabe, Fr.; Kaylee Kihara, So.; Rachel Domingo, So.; Michelle Nakasone, Fr.; Chelsey Goo Fr.

Breakdown: Punzal, a first team All-WAC preseason pick, is a raw talent who will quarterback the team from her position in the middle of the field. Surrounding her will be Shapka, another Montana transfer who started 17 of 19 games last season. Look and Bailey provided valuable minutes off the bench last season and should see more playing time. Domingo has impressed in practice and should contend for playing time. Musser is a transfer from Connecticut.

The future of the position also looks bright because Tenzing brought in four talented freshmen, including Goo, a first team all-state pick as a senior at Mililani.

DEFENDERS

Chelsea Deptula, Jr.; Brittani Lum, So.; Colleen Burns, So.; Tiffany Ikeda-Simao, So.; Julia Siljestrom, Sr.; Larilyn Alota, Sr.; Alyssa Simbahon, So.

Breakdown: Deptula will carry the load with Mikula gone. Lum quickly earned a starting job as a freshman last season and Burns saw significant minutes filling in when Higa was injured.

Defense was Hawaii's strength during its WAC title run in '07, but is also where the Rainbow Wahine lost the most firepower. Ikeda-Simao, Siljestrom, Alota and Simbahon all will have to chip in and contribute as Tenzing searches for the right combination.

GOALKEEPERS

Kanani Tacca, Fr.*; Kristina Ehrett, Fr.

Breakdown: Taaca and Ehrett face a tough task replacing arguably the most decorated goalkeeper in UH history in Lu, who started 78 matches.

McClure was Lu's backup for two seasons, but her departure leaves two unproven goalkeepers in Taaca and Ehrett to handle the duties.

Obviously, they will have to learn under fire, and the hope is the defense in front of them plays well early to allow them to gradually get used to the collegiate level.