Mari Punzal trapped the ball easily as she moved into striking position. In one smooth motion, she twisted, fired and netted her shot past diving goalkeeper Kristina Ehrett.
"That’s what’s gonna happen in the game," Hawaii soccer coach Pinsoom Tenzing bellowed.
UH hopes to find new offensive life when it opens the 2010 season tomorrow vs. Pacific at 7 p.m. in the OHANA Hotels and Resorts Shootout at Waipio Peninsula Soccer Stadium.
The act of putting the ball into the twine was anything but a simple feat for the Rainbow Wahine last year. UH struggled to score en route to a 7-11-1 season, including 3-5 in the Western Athletic Conference — good for seventh place and an early end to the season with no trip to the WAC tournament.
UH’s top two scorers, Ambree Ako and Britta Bourne, who combined for 17 of the team’s 24 goals, are gone. But considering the Wahine only scored an average of 1.26 goals per game last year (and found the net on just 8.2 percent of their shots) there should be nowhere to go but up.
That’s because Tenzing, the only coach in the program’s 17-year history, considers this group "the deepest I’ve ever had."
"In years past, it was only a promise that we’d play 18 kids to keep everybody fresh, but it was not possible," the coach said. "I’m predicting that it is possible this year … expect to see more substitutions than last year."
Will that be enough for the Wahine to earn another WAC championship after breaking through in 2007? To do so, they’ll have to vastly outperform their sixth-place projected finish.
Tenzing is banking that by moving two-time All-WAC midfielder Punzal into an attacking role, the team can replenish what it lost — and then some.
A LOOK AT THE PLAYERS:
Mari Punzal, 5-6, Sr.; Caycie Gusman, 5-5, Sr.; Saeko Nagano, 5-3, Jr.; Skye Shimabukuro, 5-5, So.; Jessica Marote, 5-4, So.
Outlook: With Punzal upfield, the Kamehameha alum (and UH’s only preseason All-WAC pick) can focus on finishing instead of creating.
"It’s much more pressure, and I just have to keep composed and also keep my teammates composed, too," said Punzal, a co-captain.
Shimabukuro could see a starting role as a sophomore after a promising season as a freshman reserve. Big things could also be expected from Gusman, a law student from Rutgers, and Nagano, a transfer from Japan.
Lauren Ho, 5-5, Sr.; Rachel Domingo, 5-2, Jr.; Kaylee Kihara, 5-2, Jr.; Briana Garcia, 5-3, Jr.; Tiffany Ikeda-Simao, 5-3, Jr.; Chelsey Goo, 5-3, So.; Michelle Nakasone, 5-4, So.; Christy Watanabe, 5-0, So.; Bree Locquiao, 5-2, So.; Ashley Chavez, 5-6, Fr.; Crystal Fresquez, 5-3, Fr.; Karli Look, 5-2, Fr.; Ashlyn Ubongen, 5-2, Fr.
Outlook: Domingo is the leader of a bevy of players at midfield. The Roosevelt grad should make a strong return as a playmaker after missing most of last season due to a knee injury.
"Our main goal is to score goals and finish. With Mari up top, that’ll be a big difference," Domingo said. "We have to mesh better. It’s coming, it’s coming. It’s going to click one day."
Ho, a Hawaii Baptist Academy alum, is a former track and field athlete at Washington who is here for grad school. Tenzing is high on Kihara, a part-time starter last year, and Nakasone, who improved from her freshman season. Look and Fresquez could be impact freshmen.
Chelsea Deptula, 5-8, Sr.; Laura Euers, 5-10, Jr.; Colleen Burns, 5-8, Jr.; Brittani Lum, 5-7, Jr.; Alyssa Simbahon, 5-3, Jr.; Tarra Gabriel, 5-3, Fr.; Chelsea Miyake, 5-7, Fr.; Storm Nana, 5-4, Fr.
Outlook: Deptula, the other co-captain, anchors the team at the opposite end of the field from Punzal. Fellow starters Burns and Lum also return for a team that yielded 1.53 goals per game last season.
"I think we can be very effective (as a defense)," said Deptula, a Punahou grad. "We definitely have stronger depth from the bench, and we have a strong foundation from the years before."
Simbahon could step into a more prominent role and freshmen Gabriel and Miyake should be counted on for relief.
Kanani Taaca, 5-6, So.; Kristina Ehrett, 5-7, So.
After observing a close battle, Tenzing named Taaca his starting ‘keeper, though he foresees the two sharing time.
The Kamehameha alum played in 14 games last year, starting 11.
"She’s terrific at organizing the defense and knows how to prevent shots from happening, as opposed to saving goals," Tenzing said. "I look to her leadership as well."