KEAAU – Every team, every school, every season.
You can always count on a senior night, even if the coach is secretly in the background counting down the minutes until the latest headache-inducing bunch is out of the picture.
There were no indications that was case Tuesday night as 11 UH-Hilo women’s soccer players frolicked in the finality on the field at Paiea Stadium, even after a disheartening 1-0 loss to first-place Point Loma likely ended the Vulcans’ postseason hopes with three road matches remaining.
“I think this group has character,” Tiera Arakawa said, “just being themselves, pretty much everybody. It’s a group to remember.”
It says something, coach Gene Okamura noted, that the seniors – Arakawa, Maleni Avalos, Lucy Maino, Jaimie Salas, Carlie Reader, Callye Lahmann, Leighana Weaver, Danika Steele, Dior Motas, Clarissa Guerrero and Meghan Langbehn – helped the Vuls (7-4-2, 4-3-1 PacWest) get to the point of contention. It said a lot as well that beyond, say, Arakawa’s four-year contributions, Maino’s team-high four goals or Avalos’ defensive presence, that the seniors were welcoming to the group that will remain.
“Just their personality, they’re going to be hard to replace,” Okamura said. “The senior class did a good job taking in all of the newcomers and making them feel apart of everything from the get-go. That helped us tremendously to where we’re right now.”
Okamura made it known in the preseason that the newcomers were going to see playing time and make the seniors work for the minutes.
Arakawa noticed a difference once practice started.
“At the beginning of hell week, the first couple of weeks, we were always on the freshmen, ‘We have to do this, this and this,’ and they came out and they just crushed it,” Arakawa said. “As the weeks went on, us senior were like, ‘Holy crap, this is totally different team.’
“We tried to encourage them as much as possible, and now it’s their turn to take over.”
Freshmen Jodi Lillie and Brende Yoshizumi of Oahu already have entrenched themselves in the starting lineup, and juniors Bailey Cahill, a goalkeeper, Janelle Schwartz and Brianna Valencia are slated to return as well.
As the match against Point Loma (13-0-1, 8-0-1) – the only PacWest’s only team ranked in the West Region’s top seven – unfolded, one had the sense the contest would be decided by on one key play, and it happened in the 55th minute when Julia Glaser scored on a penalty kick.
“We had a couple of very good looks,” Okamura said, “we played fairly well. We did well, we did what we wanted to defensively, for sure. Unfortunate with the PK, but it was a foul. Rather unfortunate we couldn’t get the equalizer.”
Consider the Sea Lions’ athleticism and technicality, “I would say they are probably the best we’ve played this season so far,” he said.
The Vulcans already were on the outside looking in at regional rankings that will determine postseason bids, and that was before a pair of 1-0 home losses. They remained in fourth place in the PacWest, but the Vuls still have a couple of benchmarks they can hope to reach as they finish the season with a swing through Northern California to take on Dominican, Notre Dame de Namur and Fresno Pacific., none of which has an overall winning record.
Another victory would ensure UHH the program’s first winning season since 2014, and three more would replicate the high-water mark of 10-4-2 enjoyed by the 2013 team, and UHH can surpass that clubs’s 7-4-1 conference mark.
“(The Sea Lions) definitely were physical, and this was a more fast-paced game than any that we’ve played,” Arakawa said. “They’re a top team, but we came out tonight with the fans and everyone’s support and we just showed them what we can do as well. We can compete.”
The Maui native is on track to graduate with a degree in agriculture and would like to satisfy her competitive juices by playing futsal on the mainland.
Senior days come and go – every team, every school, every season – and on some occasions a four-year Vuls contributor’s experiences might have sounded like a saga of survival. Arakawa’a came off as a tale of perseverance.
“The seniors before were telling us to embrace it,” she said. “I don’t know, it just didn’t hit me until now.
“It’s a bittersweet moment. I’m also happy for the upcoming players, just rooting for them.”