Is University of Hawaii soccer a sleeping giant?
Or is it just, well … soccer?
Hang on, because we’re about to find out. If there’s any coach who can make the Wahine program interesting to more than the Triple F crowd (family, friends and fanatics), UH just hired her.
Michele Nagamine is a character with character — and a lot of credibility and championships.
She’s known as "Bud," because she’s everybody’s buddy.
"Like Spicoli in the ’80s. I was always, ‘Hey, Bud.’ "
That’s about all she has in common with the Sean Penn surfer dude from "Fast Times At Ridgemont High," but she’s certainly got a unique style.
"I do things with a lot of flair," Nagamine said at her introductory news conference yesterday, as those in the crowded room who know her nodded and laughed.
Detractors will say the Kamehameha graduate’s booming voice, positive attitude and focus on fundamentals won’t make up for mainland experience. But she’s got contacts in all directions beyond these shores, going back to her days at Santa Clara when she captained the Broncos’ 1990 team that made it to the final four.
She has college head coaching experience, building up the program at Hawaii Pacific — a part-time gig while also coaching Kamehameha and directing sports marketing at Outrigger Hotels.
And, she’s a she.
Athletic director Jim Donovan can’t say that’s a factor, and it shouldn’t matter. It wouldn’t in a perfect world, but it does in this world, the real one.
Dave Shoji and Bob Coolen are proof that men can successfully coach college women. But as female athletes increasingly build outstanding coaching resumes, the pool of candidates who have actually played women’s college soccer expands.
And anyone who has ever played sports knows it makes a difference when your coach was once in your cleats.
Nagamine, 42, starred in sports as a kid despite a lack of athletic female role models. That’s why she’s remained a fixture in Hawaii soccer circles the past 20 years, collecting enough coach-of-the-year hardware to open a trophy shop.
"I had Joe Montana on my wall when I was a kid. Mia Hamm wasn’t even a twinkle in her dad’s eye yet."
NAGAMINE OWNED and operated a store, Soccerama, and was a deal-maker while at Outrigger. While her job will be to teach and strategize winning soccer, you know she’ll have a hand in developing the program into more than an afterthought for most island sports fans.
Donovan says that more Hawaii kids grow up playing soccer than volleyball, yet volleyball is the women’s sport that captures the fan interest at the college level here.
"Soccer has the potential to rally the corporate community," he said.
We’ve established that Nagamine’s not shy. In addition to developing a strong program and providing plenty of community service ("because it’s the right thing to do"), Nagamine says she’ll work hard to improve soccer’s revenue vs. expenses, which came out to $449,009 more out than in last year.
No gift is too small, she said. "If someone gives me a dollar, what if they only had $10? That’s an honor."
SHE KNOWS everybody. It seems like she’s coached everybody, between Kamehameha and powerhouse club Leahi; that includes Tani Costa, the Parade All-American out of Kalani who capped her freshman season at Penn State by making the All-Big Ten second team.
It might be too late for Costa (or maybe not, depending on how much she likes snow), but Nagamine promises to bring a bigger share of the state’s considerable girls high school soccer talent to Manoa.
"I’m already getting calls from players saying they would’ve stayed if they knew this was going to happen," she said. "I want to build a team around Hawaii players."
She can’t remember the last time she had one job.
"The hardest thing will be walking away from my high school and HPU teams. I was at Kamehameha 20 years. I never dreamed growing up I’d be a Division I (college soccer) coach. It didn’t seem like a lifestyle I’d want.
"I tell my players you have to dare to be fabulous. Maybe it’s time I took my own advice. … I was made to do this job."
If there’s a giant to be awoken, she’s the one to do it.