Perhaps it was finer attention to detail, or maybe it was just coincidence, but Gene Okamura lightened his workload and it showed.
The UH-Hilo women’s soccer team held playoff aspirations in 2018 before finishing off a 10-win season near the top of the Pacific West Conference, but 11 senior departures, including five of whom made all-conference, means the Vulcans won’t just be able to pick up where they left off.
“It’s feel like a pretty new team,” said Okamura, who prior to last season had to worry about the women’s and men’s programs. “The returnees have to prove themselves, and the new girls have to prove themselves.”
Jodi Lillie of Mililani, Oahu, proved a lot last season in becoming just one of three freshman leaguewide to make the all-PacWest team. Not surprisingly, Lillie was the only Vulcans players named to the preseason all-conference team, which was released Tuesday.
The fullback already has earned the right to be called captain.
“We’re trying to get her become more of a leader and be more vocal,” Okamura said.
The Vuls tied for second last season, but Okamura took an “it is what it is” stance in regards to UHH being selected to finish sixth of 12 teams, and it doesn’t sound like the coaches’ ranking will be used as bulletin board material.
Senior goalkeeper Bailey Cahill is the Vulcans’ other all-conference returnee. UHH allowed just nine goals in 16 matches, getting seven shutouts fron Cahill.
Practice started Monday ahead of the opener Sept. 7 at Cal State Monterey Bay, and some of the August grind will be spent on conditioning and refining style.
All of it will be competitive.
“Going into every year every position is up for grabs,” Okamura said. “We want to challenge them so they’ll be tough mentally and physically.”
He mentioned the competition for playing time at outside fullback as one of the more spirited position battles this season, but goal-scorers also will need to be developed. The Vuls must replace their top six goal-scorers. The group accounted for 18 of 23 tallies in 2018.
Of the 15 newcomers, three are Division I transfers — Maisie Paulson, Dina Draguicevich and Brenna Rill — and there are two Big Islanders, Hilo High alum Hollie Saplan and Konawaena graduate Nanea Wall.
Defending champion Point Loma received all 12 first-place votes in the coaches’ poll, with Concordia picked to finish second. The Eagles tied with the Vulcans last year for runner-up. Point Loma’s Julia Glaser was selected to repeat as PacWest Preseason Player of the Year.