Coach Paul Regrutto wants his UH-Hilo men’s soccer team to do something that he doesn’t have much of an opportunity to do himself: dream.
Regrutto wakes up everyday at the ripe hour of 3:30 a.m., driving from Volcano to Hilo to be the early bird and make sure everything is in order for the Vulcans’ 5:45 a.m. practices.
“This is not my forte,” Regrutto said. “I wake up fine, but about 11 a.m. I’m ready to take a nap. But there’s no time for naps. No nap-time.”
It’s game-time, and even though they’re coming off of a two-win season, the Vuls aren’t sleeping on their chances.
“Their expectations are pretty high,” Regrutto said. “I think they are dreaming of lofty goals and that makes me really pleased.
“Let’s not be completely unrealistic, but let’s be a little unrealistic and chase after it. They’ve done that and they are not backing down.”
Regrutto begins his second stint coaching the Vuls on Tuesday when they begin a three-game road trip against Western Washington, a match that marks the first time since 2012 that UHH won’t be led by a director of soccer trying to pull double coaching duty
The hope in Vulcan-land is that Regrutto’s full-time, razor-specific focus will bring a much-needed revitalization to a program that has often performed as if it’s been neglected.
“If you can get 1-2 percent better everyday, by the end of the season you can double yourself,” Regrutto said. “If we just continue to improve what we’re doing, we’ll see where we are mid-year, and toward the end off the year, that’s when we want to be playing our best soccer. If we continue the trend we’re on, we’ll be doing that.”
His most recent coaching job was a four-year stint at CSU-Pueblo that saw the Thunderwolves go 36-21-6 and ended in 2016 with Regrutto being named Rocky Mountain Athletic coach of the year.
Simply put, UHH would be over the moon for that winning percentage. The Vulcans topped out with a 7-9-2 campaign in 2014, but they’ve managed just seven victories since.
Last year, UHH was outscored 38-14, and only two players on the 22-man roster, co-captain Xahil McDonald and Jack Stonehouse, scored a goal last season in a Vulcans uniform. They each scored one apiece.
“If you don’t score, you don’t win,” Regrutto said, “but I think our first focus has been to try to make sure we’re really solid on the back end. That’s still a work-in-progress.
“For any team, great defense leads to good offense.”
Regrutto wasn’t ready to name many names ahead of the opener, but seniors Trenton Hooper (six starts in 2017), McDonald (all 16) and Stonehouse (13) will spearhead the backline in front of senior goalkeeper Nick Williams, who played in 11 matches and recorded the only two victories.
Regrutto wants UHH to be a blank canvas for the scouting department at Western Washington, which is off to a 3-1 start and ranked No. 13 in Division II. Asked about the Vulcans’ alignment, Regrutto said, “I’m not telling you that. Nobody knows anything about us. There is no film out there on us. We will come in as a total surprise to them.”
The co-captain is junior Matt Wilkinson, was credited with seven goals last season at Santa Barbara (Calif.) City College. The native of England is listed as a forward.
Regrutto says he sees five to six capable options in the midfield.
“There is nobody special that stands out,” he said. “They all have some really good strengths. They will all have to be really organized to be be successful.”
At striker, Regrutto likes the way his four forwards complement each other, some offering pace and others technical ability.
Among the Vulcans’ 18-man travel squad are a pair of Big Islanders, sophomore Brandon Baca and true freshman Tyler Waltjen. Baca is a Hilo High alum who didn’t play last season after redshirting in 2016, while Waltjen has already lived the dream – he helped Kamehameha claim the HHSAA Division II title in February.
“I think he’s done a good job,” Regrutto said of Waltjen. “It’s always an adjustment for any guy coming from high school to college. He’s worked hard, he’s trying to listen. He seems like the type of kid when you put something in there in his brain, he holds on to it. That’s the sign of a kid who is going to improve all the time.
“Don’t be a cup with a hole in it. We’re going to pour this info in there, don’t just let it leak out. Seal the hole.”