Tuesday | December 12, 2017
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UH-Hilo soccer: Okamura still pulling double duty with two jobs

Two-a-day practices are quickly becoming a relic in professional and college football, but, as is often the case, soccer is different.

The two soccer squads at the University of Hawaii at Hilo have been traveling around the east side this week, finding suitable places to practice away from their largely unusable field.

The men’s and women’s teams each practiced at Bayfront fields Wednesday afternoon and then Gene Okamura, still coaching both NCAA teams, took them up the hill to Kamehameha Schools Hawaii for evening training.

That makes it four-a-days for the coach.

“It’s a little more familiar the second time around,” Okamura said of the task of being the only coach at the school with two full teams to coach that includes the largest number of squad members in the athletic department. “Not exactly easier, there’s a lot of stuff to do, but it helps having been there and done it before.”

The athletic department has hinted a new head coach may be added to the soccer program, but a question for clarification on the matter was not immediately received Wednesday by theTribune-Herald. As he works out the squads, Okamura doesn’t know if he’ll be coaching both of them or just one — and what one — this season.

Even so, the second time around looks like a more auspicious opportunity to turn the Vulcans — both of them — into winners.

“It really feels so much better with both groups,” Okamura said, “we had some needs and I think we definitely helped ourselves.”

Both teams had losing records last year in a rather dysfunctional approach to the season, as it developed. Former soccer director Lance Thompson moved to Arizona and some club coaching opportunities at Grand Canyon University, but before he left, he did virtually all the recruiting, for both squads. For the men, it was heavy on freshmen who experienced a higher level of play than they had previously known.

After Thompson left, Okamura was handed the “Soccer Director” job, which entails being the head coach for both teams, in this case, with the responsibility of coaching players recruited by someone else.

“We ended up in last place, right?” Okamura said of the men’s 1-14-2 overall record (0-11-2 in the Pacific West Conference). “It was a struggle but we had a lot of guys who got a lot of quality minutes and are turning that into a positive.”

He also brought in experience with some transfers from other schools along with some freshman for 2017-18.

Robert Stonehouse is a holding midfielder from England, by way of Iowa Lakes Community College who can help knit the back end with the front end. “He’s a very good distributor of the ball,” Okamura said. “We will be better in the midfield.”

Xahil McDonald, out of Seattle, comes to UHH from Humboldt State where he played against some of the top competition in the country. In the midfield with Stonehouse, the difference could be significant.

One freshman who could add some flavor up front offensively is Sergio Hippolito from East Valley High School in Redlands, Calif. “He’s crafty,” Okamura said, “very good technical player, left-footed and a high soccer IQ.”

Any improvement will apparently be a surprise for the conference after Pac/West predicted finishes came out this week and had the Vulcans picked 14th and last.

“To be fair, that’s where we should be, that’s where we were last year and nobody knows much about us,” Okamura said. “They will come in thinking, ‘UHH is a doormat,’ they’ll be relaxed and expect to get a win, but we will surprise a lot of people this year. I think it will be fun.”

The women’s team was a different story last season, finishing with a deceptive 5-7-4 record (3-6-3 in conference), that was oh-so-close to being a winning season.

“We lost five of those seven games by one goal,” Okamura said, “and three of those four ties really felt like losses because we felt like we controlled the games and should have won. Just those three ties, had they gone different, we could have finished with an 8-7 record.”

This time, Okamura brought in 17 new players to women’s team, after losing six seniors from last year.

“We brought in some players who fit what we do,” he said. “Last year we had a very scrappy bunch, they battled and battled the whole match and that won’t change with this year’s team.”

Okamura is eager to see the talents of senior transfer Clarissa Guerrero from Chaffey College in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.

“She is very dangerous around the goal,” Okamura said. “She doesn’t need a clear opportunity, she can score on a half opportunity, a rebound, a pass that comes through. She has good technique, but she’s a goal scorer; she won’t take it all the way through a pack of players but she will get one touch at the goal and score.”

They will be solid in goal again with Jenna Hufford back as a fifth-year senior, and to help her, Okamura feels he has a player with genuine potential for the back line in freshman Jada Macairan.

“She has been very impressive,” Okamura said. “The toughest thing at this level is for a freshman to come in and feel comfortable and in control right away.

“Jada did that, she made a visit last spring and we could see immediately that she was very comfortable and confident,” he said. “She is one of those with the confidence and the skills to come in and make an impact, right now.”

The women open the season Sept. 2 at 10 a.m. in Kaneohe against Pace University. The men’s team opens at 3 p.m. the same day in the same place, against Hawaii Pacific.

 

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