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Soccer: High-flying UHH women out to avoid 2017 repeat

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald
    UHH freshman defender Jodi Lillie outraces two Chaminade players during a recent PacWest game.

UH-Hilo women’s soccer is the hottest thing going in Vulcans athletics right now, but coach Gene Okamura is happy to throw a wet blanket on all that talk.

Okamura and the Vuls have been here before.

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“That’s what I keep telling everyone,” Okamura said. “We can’t feel completely confident and not be satisfied where we’re at.”

Last season, the Vulcans we’re riding high at 6-3-1 when they simply stopped scoring, going goose eggs for nearly 500 minutes of exasperating soccer. The result was a season-draining six-match losing streak.

Okamura was beginning to think the scoreless defect was creeping in again early this season, but that proved to be a bug, not a feature. It’s been a good, long month since the Vulcans’ only loss, a 1-0 setback to No. 10 Cal San Diego on Sept. 9.

He’s checked. There are no indicators that a repeat swoon is on tap.

“Style is different, energy is different,” Okamura said. “The quality is increasing, we’re getting sharper and sharper every day. We’ll see what happens.”

So, here we are.

UHH (6-1-2, 3-0-1 Pacific West Conference), winners of five in a row, unbeaten in seven and perched second in the PacWest, opens a four-match homestand, its last of the season, at 7 p.m. Thursday against Concordia (3-5-1, 1-2) at Paiea Stadium at Kamehameha. The men get things started at 4:30 p.m.

If anything has taken Okamura by surprise this season, it’s “our ability to be dangerous off set pieces and our ability to grind out games and get results.”

The Vuls have made the most of the their 12 goals, giving up only five themselves, easily second-best in the conference behind Point Loma. Junior goalkeeper Bailey Cahill (0.53 goals against average) has four shutouts playing in front of a sturdy back line that includes Lucy Maino, a senior who as shown a knack for scoring off set pieces, leading the team with three goals.

“Defensively, we’re putting in a lot of work,” Okamura said. “A lot of time the midfield is killing off plays; cutting off passing lanes.”

• Men seeking

momentum

UHH men’s coach Paul Regrutto had never been here before, at least that’s what he thought to himself last Saturday in a loss at Holy Names when he looked around and saw only two available substitutes because of red card suspensions, injuries and travel restrictions.

“We will have some guys on the bench,” Regrutto joked, looking ahead a tussle against Concordia (4-6, 2-1).

“You don’t do that thing where you look down the bench thinking, “Who can I get in,”’ he said, looking back. “You know who your guys are.”

The Vuls (2-7, 1-3) will regain the services of Matt Wilkinson, a junior transfer who has notched five of the Vuls’ eight goals, while also drawing five yellow cards, costing him the match against the Hawks.

“He’s clinical in front of goal, that’s for sure,” Regrutto said. “He’s the kind of (player) that takes his chances when they are given to him. Good technique and understanding of the game.”

The Eagles counter with Connor Gordon, who ranks first in the PacWest and sixth in the NCAA in goals with 1.22 per match. He has 11 goals on the season and 43 career for his career.

The Vuls have been vulnerable at times defensively, allowing four goals in a match five times and 23 in all.

“The struggles we’ve had are mostly frustration,” Regrutto said. “Sometimes (teams) fall apart because they don’t care. That not this team.”

One player the first-year coach would like to see rewarded for his effort is freshman Devan Yoshimura of Pearl City on Oahu.

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“He does the right things on the field and off the field,” Yoshimura said. “My hope is he can get out of the zero goal column.”

Notes: In collaboration with the NCAA, the Vulcans will honor the fight against breast cancer on Thursday night. All fans wearing pink will gain free admission. … The homestand is spread out over 12 days. Once Concordia’s Eagles fly out, Biola’s Eagles will fly in for matches Tuesday. Hawaii Pacific visits Oct. 20, and first place could be on the line when the UHH women welcome Point Loma on senior day on Oct. 22.