Women’s soccer: Vuls clash with equally stingy Sonoma State at NCAA D-II tourney

  • People watch UH-Hilo forward Filippa Graneld maneuvers the ball away from Concordia Irvine during a match at home on Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2021. UH-Hilo won 1-0 due to a goal scored by Christina Kanellou.

Daelenn Tokunaga came from UH-Manoa, Filippa Graneld from the University of Colorado, Alyssa Padron from UC Davis and Bailee Brennan’s last stop was UC San Diego.

That’s four Division I transfers and each one an all-Pacific West Conference player for Gene Okamura’s University of Hawaii at Hilo women’s soccer team.

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Okamura mastered the transfer portal and accumulated talent, but he credits his players for jelling into the program’s first NCAA Division tournament team.

“I think the senior leadership really made sure the team connected well on and off the field,” Okamura said. “It’s the credit to the girls that came for fitting in.

“It’s also a credit to the girls that were here for welcoming them.”

So there the Vulcans were Wednesday, bundled together and bundled up at Seattle Pacific to take a team photo at their NCAA tournament first-round site. At 11 a.m. Thursday, fifth-seeded UHH (12-3) plays fourth-seeded Sonoma State (14-5) in what could be a defensive battle.

“They are a well-rounded team, very comparable to the Southern California teams we face in the PacWest,” Okamura said.

The Vulcans gave up just seven goals in 14 matches, a 0.50 goals against average. The Seawolves have allowed just 10 goals in 19 matches, a GAA of 0.462.

Brennan and Jodie Lillie key the backline for the Vulcans at center back, with Camille Strazzo and and Christy Jensen on the outside and Viviana Poli at goalkeeper.

“I think they’ve done a really shutting teams down with a lot of firepower,” Okamura said.

Of that group, all but Strazzo earned all-PacWest recognition Tuesday, but Okamura’s not sure that was the right call.

“I think Camille and Maisie Paulson (a midfielder) also deserved consideration,” Okamura said.

Sonoma State features CCAA Defensive Player of the Year Julia Pritchard. She has helped her team post shutouts in 11 of their 17 matches. Lexi Zandonella-Arasa and Malia Falk led the offensive with five goals each. In going 8-3 in conference play this year, the Seawolves have won back-to-back CCAA regular season titles. They are also making their sixth straight NCAA tournament appearance and 17th overall in school history. Coach Emiria Salzmann is making her eighth trip to the postseason.

Tokunaga, the PacWest Player of the Year, is the top scorer in the West Region with 13 goals scored and four assists (30 points).

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“This is really big for Hilo, helping to put us out there in the soccer world,” Okamura said. “We have received a lot of messages from alumni and coaches congratulating us.

“Our goal before the start of the season was to win the conference and go to the NCAA’s. Our mindset has changed now. We don’t want this to end here and will do everything in our ability to keep this going.”