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Women's Soccer

How Adversity Propelled Hawai'i To Its Best-Ever Start



Just a season ago, Hawai‘i women’s soccer finished its campaign with an 0-8 mark in the Big West and a 3-14-1 record overall.
“It was so emotionally draining,” said head coach Michele Nagamine. “But when I look back, if I had to do it again, I think I would.”
Last season ignited a fire within the Rainbow Wahine so much so that at 7-1-1 so far in 2016, UH is off to its best-ever start in program history.
The Rainbow Wahine are unbeaten at home and are 2-1 on the road.  The 'Bows currently lead the league with 15.0 shots per game on the offensive end while senior goalkeeper Monk Berger paces the Big West with 50 saves on the year.
“When we hit rock bottom which I think was our game against UC Davis last year, there’s that cliché that you can only go up from here, but we still lost games after that,” said Nagamine.
In that particular game towards the end of the season, UH suffered a 4-0 shutout defeat, its sixth shutout loss at the time.
That October, the Rainbow Wahine would close out its season with what coach Nagamine describes as “the worst, best experience” of her coaching career.
Rock bottom was humbling for UH and gave way to its unprecedented start.
So what changed in one offseason?
“[The student-athletes] made a conscious decision as a group to not have a repeat of last year and they worked extremely hard in the offseason to address things like leadership and accountability and mental toughness.
“It was not easy. Last year was a very emotional season for us.”
Coach Nagamine brought on a new assistant coach in Ashley O’Brien in addition to a sports psychologist.
With an 0-8 campaign as fuel, the student-athletes made the decision to work harder in all areas of their game.
The coaches also devised a more competitive training environment in which the team thrived.
“Our captains really led the charge for us,” said Nagamine.
Captains Storm Kenui, Lauren Takai and Dani Crawford took it upon themselves to get together to build a program that was their own.
The group put together exercises with the sports psychologist, took ownership and the team responded.
“It was an obscene amount of work,” said Nagamine. “We got very detail-oriented and started to pay attention to all of the little things.  We gave the [student-athletes] as much information as we could and we kept explaining why we were doing things.”
Having always been a close-knit group, Nagamine and her staff began stressing the importance of being a good teammate – the other half of being a student-athlete “where you have to be a good friend.”
As Nagamine explains, the importance placed on being there for teammates is just as serious as the importance of competition.
“Until you hit rock bottom and come back and turn it around, it’s hard to explain.”
The group has turned it around and gets the chance to avenge its 2015 conference campaign starting on September 30 at Cal Poly when it travels to the Central Coast for a two-game road trip.
“It’s been such an incredible journey and the adversity has definitely built character,” said Nagamine.
The team has adopted the phrase “adversity creates character” and it’s looking forward to a chance to show the Big West that the Rainbow Wahine are off to its best-ever start for a reason.

Story by Olivia Phelps (@OliviaGPhelps)