By MATT GERHART
Tribune-Herald sports writer
Junior Taylor Matas remembers last season as a series of golden opportunities that Hilo let get away. The Lady Vikings created plenty of scoring chances, only to misfire early and often during an uncharacteristic 6-5-2 season.
Their woes started with a 2-1 loss to Honokaa that marked Hilo’s first Big Island Interscholastic Federation soccer setback in three seasons.
“The main problem with not getting wins was finishing,” Matas said. “All of the times we’d be right in front of the goal, and we’d just throw it away.”
Most of all, however, Matas remembers last season for its painful and premature ending. A double-overtime loss to Kealakehe in the BIIF semifinals cost the Vikings a chance to play for its fourth straight Division I title.
That stinging defeat to the eventual BIIF champion still was fresh in Matas’ mind when she made a speech as players and coached gathered at Kilauea Military Camp for a preseason retreat.
“I told the girls to think about last year,” she said. “Think about that feeling of losing. Think about how you felt when you did lose. I bet none of you ever want to feel that way again. It came to the point where they burst into tears.
“I told them to take that and turn it into motivation, so that this year is our year. All we have to do is work together and we got this. My personal motto is: We got this.”
Coach Paul Bello shares a similar resolve.
“I can tell you this: We’ll be in the championship game,” he said. “This year, we’re doing the hunting. We’ve been the hunted. We’re ready to do some hunting.”
There appears to be plenty of reason for optimism as Hilo gets ready to start that pursuit. It returns nine starters, welcomes back one key player from injury and adds two transfers. In addition, Bello is excited about his three freshmen.
And as usual, few teams prepare for a season quite like the Vikings. After their annual retreat, Hilo got its feet wet with three preseason matches on Kauai. The Vikings (0-2-1) will continue to fine-tune at 4 p.m. today against Roosevelt (Oahu) at their Big Island Candies Hilo Bay Classic.
In all, Hilo will play 10 preseason matches leading up to its Nov. 29 opener at home against Waiakea.
Lack of scoring punch was the primary reason that the Vikings failed to beat a team with a winning record last season. They scored 13 fewer goals in 2011 than they did in 2010, and they found the back of the net only three times in four matches against fellow D-I heavyweights Kealakehe, Konawaena and Waiakea.
Not surprisingly, Bello and the Vikings are treating the preseason as a finishing school of sorts.
“A lot of it was mental,” he said. “Not believing the ball was going to go into the net. We’re getting them to believe in themselves. Believe in the person next to them and good things will happen.
“We have the scorers. They just have to finish. This year we fully intend to take advantage of every chance we get.”
Senior Rose Nakamura has shown a knack for finishing since her freshman year. She tallied 13 goals last season and has 37 for her career. She’ll be a good bet to start at forward, and while Bello said he hadn’t sorted out just where the rest of his players will line up, he feels as if he has no shortage of scoring threats.
Matas was second on the team last season with seven goals at forward but could move to the midfield this year. Junior Delcee Ramos will be in the mix at that position as well, and speedy senior Taylor Pacheco is a candidate to start at either center midfield or striker.
Juniors Lolly Higa and Carmen Garson-Shumway and sophomores Alysha Medeiros and Savannah Toussaint-Adviento each scored four goals last season. Senior Kiana Heaukulani, who started and scored six points in 2010, returns after missing last season with an ACL injury and could play either at midfield or fullback.
Junior Lii Maertens figures to play on the backline along with Toussaint-Adviento.
Fresh off the running season, Bello refers to Garson-Shumway and sophomore Mehana Sabado-Halpern as his “1-2 cross country punch and in the hunt to start.”
“We have girls who can play the whole game,” Bello said. “We’re whipping them into shape.”
The Vikings will get a boost from a couple of transfers. Sophomore Tiani Teanio moved over from Waiakea and Bello called junior Serena Nasworthy, formerly of Christian Liberty, one of the surprises of camp.
Bello thinks all three of his freshmen ( Jasmine Smeraglia, Michaela Clarke, and Tori Teanio) could see playing time, and he expects the younger Teanio to develop into an impact player.
In addition to Nakamura and Pacheco, the other four-year starter will be goalkeeper Edwina DeGrood.
“The only position nailed down so far is Edwina” Bello said. “Wait until everyone sees her. She went on a training regimen, she lost some weight. She’ll be one of our leaders.”
Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of Big Island Interscholastic Federation soccer previews.
At Hilo Bayfront
Boys: Hilo vs. Waiakea, 4 p.m.
Girls: Hilo vs. Roosevelt, 4 p.m.
Boys: Hilo vs. Kealakehe No. 1, 9 a.m.
Girls: Hilo vs. HPA, 11 a.m.
Girls: Roosevelt vs. Kamehameha-Hawaii girls, 1:30 p.m.
Boys: Waiakea vs. Kealakehe No. 1, 3:30 p.m.
Boys: Honokaa vs. Kamehameha, 9 a.m.
Girls: Honokaa vs. Keaau, 11 a.m.
Boys: Honokaa vs. Konawaena, 1:30 p.m.
Girls: Hilo vs. Keaau girls, 3:30 p.m.
Girls: Roosevelt vs. Honokaa, 10:30 a.m.
Boys: Kealakehe No. 1 vs. Keaau, noon
Girls: Kamehameha-Hawaii vs. Hilo, 1:30 p.m.
Boys: Honokaa vs. Kealakehe No. 2, 3 p.m.
Boys: Konawaena vs. Kealakehe No. 2, 10:30 a.m.
Boys: Konawaena vs. Hilo, 3 p.m.