Hawaii's Natasha Kai, left, will join the U.S. Under-21 National Team for its training camp in Carson, Calif., this week.

Kai’s involvement
pays off for U-21

The UH sophomore shines for the
Under-21 Women’s National team
on its trip to China

Chris Petrucelli is very happy he and his staff decided to take a chance with Natasha Kai.

The Hawaii Rainbow Wahine sophomore striker received her first invitation to the United States Under-21 Women's National Team's training camp at Carson, Calif., because UH head coach Pinsoom Tenzing convinced Petrucelli that Kai was worthy of a tryout.

"Natasha did extremely well on our China trip," Petrucelli, the U-21 coach, said. "She keeps getting better. It has been fun to watch her development."

Kai's next U-21 camp starts Wednesday and runs through April 25. During that period the U-21 team will play the U.S. Women's National Team twice. The WNT has already started its four-month residency training camp at the National Training Center in Carson in preparation for the 2004 Olympics.

Head coach April Heinrichs brought 27 players to the camp to compete for the 18 spots on the Olympic roster.

Petrucelli told Kai after the China trip that this camp was the time for her to shine, that, if she did, there might be an outside chance of being asked to join the WNT.

"If someone comes through in those two games (vs. the WNT), then April would have to take a look at them. At this late date, it is a long shot, but all the U-21 players get a week in front of April," Petrucelli said.

Kai's biggest improvement is her capacity to play at top speed for longer periods of time.

"When she came to us in January, she was a 20-minute player. Now she is a 75-minute player. Obviously, she has worked on her fitness," Petrucelli said. "When she first came to us she was raw but had a lot of potential. We decided to take a risk and now I feel it was worth the risk."

Even if the long shot does not materialize, Kai says she is hopeful of making the U-21 trip to Brazil at the end of May and being on the team that defends the Nordic Cup title in Iceland in July.

Kai also is happy the Brazil trip comes after finals at UH. She said the travel with the U-21 team is similar to what she deals with during the fall with Rainbow Wahine road trips. The books and other study materials go with her.

"I have to make sacrifices, but I come back from every trip and get with my tutor," Kai said. "I have to keep my head on straight and know where my standards lie. I want to play for the Wahine next fall, so I have to keep up with my school work."

The U-21 Women's National Team has been active since 1989 and has been consistently effective in preparing players for the step up to the full national team. More than 25 current WNT pool players have competed for the U-21 side and the day is coming when almost all of the senior national team players will have passed through the youth program.


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