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Wahine give glowing welcome to new coach Nagamine

By Brian McInnis

LAST UPDATED: 2:37 a.m. HST, Dec 16, 2010

It was like a reunion.

The Hawaii women's soccer team's returning players lined up, about 20 strong, to hug their new, yet familiar coach, Michele Nagamine, who was introduced at a news conference yesterday.

The message from more than two-thirds of the Rainbow Wahine roster was clear: Coach, we know you, and we welcome you.

Nagamine, who became the second head coach in the program's 17 years, brimmed with energy at UH's Wong Hospitality Room podium as she looked at all those familiar faces.

"My track record has shown that I'm passionate and that I care," said Nagamine, 42, who was offered a three-year contract by UH athletic director Jim Donovan. "And I don't think you can fake that passion. You can't just go out and buy gasoline and throw it on the fire. That's something that comes from within, and my players know what to expect from me. They may not like what I have to make them do all the time, but they know in the end that it's for a reason, it's for the team, and it's going to be fair."

The ultimate multitasker, she's coached soccer at just about every level in Hawaii over the past 20 years, and gave up much to replace the retired Pinsoom Tenzing at the UH helm.

Nagamine was the women's head coach at Hawaii Pacific for the past three seasons, helping turn the Division II Lady Sea Warriors into a Pacific West Conference contender. She's coached at Kamehameha almost since the day she returned to Hawaii in 1990 from an outstanding soccer career at Santa Clara, and led the Warriors to five state championships and six Interscholastic League of Honolulu titles. Nagamine had a full-time job as director of sports marketing and sales at Outrigger Hotels and Resorts. Finally, she was technical director of the popular Leahi Soccer Club, where she groomed many of the same players who smiled and clapped while Nagamine shared her vision for the Wahine program.

She must vacate all of those posts, but her infectious energy overcame any self-doubt in her final interview with the UH selection committee led by Donovan.

"A lot of people ask me, 'Are you crazy? You've done so many things,' " the Kamehameha graduate said. "I'd like to spend my energy focusing on one thing. And I couldn't think of a better thing to focus on. It allows me to basically combine all the different things that I've done over the last 20 years into one position."

Donovan estimated her 90-minute interview ranked in the top three to five most impressive of the 80 to 120 people he's interviewed at UH since 1986. He said there were two to three other finalists, but the committee's support of his decision was unanimous.

"She was organized, had a plan, a vision, articulated it very well," Donovan said. "The last 20 minutes or so just really got down to core honesty about herself, who she was, what she felt she could do for the program. How much she wanted to do it for the state, for soccer in the state and for UH. And it just really came through well."

The search committee was: KFVE general manager John Fink; UH associate athletic director Marilyn Moniz-Kaho'ohanohano; UH computer specialist (and avid soccer player) Chris Kumagai; faculty athletics representative Peter Nicholson; and compliance director (and former UH goalkeeper) Amanda Paterson.

The Wahine are expected to lose only four players from the 2010 team that went 3-14-3 and missed the Western Athletic Conference tournament for the second straight year under Tenzing.

That downward spiral is why the players' show of support for "Bud" (as many in the soccer community call her) was huge.

"Her mood when she comes to the field is ecstatic," said freshman defender Tarra Gabriel, who played for Nagamine at Kamehameha. "She loves her job, and that really helps playing as a player. Knowing your coach is in a good mood, it puts you in a good mood to play and actually work harder."

UH has struggled since breaking through to its first NCAA tournament appearance in 2007.

Nagamine, a five-time high school state coach of the year and 2009 PacWest coach of the year, said she plans to turn things around by getting top local talent to stay home. She plans to supplement that with mainland and international players.

"This is a next step to help UH springboard to greater and better things," said former Wahine player Joelle Sugai, who was a graduate assistant under Nagamine at HPU. "She's by far the best mentor I've had. I've played for her, I've coached with her, and it's been a privilege to be by her side the last three years."

Nagamine made a point to thank HPU athletic director Darren Vorderbruegge for her first collegiate opportunity, in which she went 19-15-1 over the past two years. As for Kamehameha, she said Missy Moore will be the interim head coach.

Once she officially starts tomorrow, Nagamine said putting together a staff of assistants is her top priority, followed by a mainland recruiting trip.

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