Kaua‘i girls, Wahine open season at No Ka Oi this week

The University of Hawai‘i women’s soccer team is about to start one of the toughest schedules in school history.

“I’m very excited and am getting nervous. We have so many away games and that’s always hard,” said sophomore midfielder Mari Punzal of Kapa‘a. “I like the home games because we have our Hawai‘i fans backing us.”

The record-setting Wahine and reigning Western Athletic Conference champions will play 11 of their 20 total games on the Mainland — only four are away conference games. They also open with three back-to-back tournaments.

The first of those being this week’s ‘Ohana Hotels and Resorts No Ka Oi at the Waipi‘o Peninsula Soccer Stadium where their first match will be against Long Beach State, the second, the New Mexico Classic in Albuquerque and the third, the Pacific Fall Tournament in Stockton, Calif.

“Practice has been pretty strenuous, but our playing style is still the same,” Punzal said.

That’s a good thing as the Wahine return nine of its 11 starters and are predicted to win the WAC again this year. Preseason polls ranked Hawai‘i at the top of the WAC, returners Ambree Ako to be the Offensive Player of the Year and Tehane Higa as the Co-Defensive Player of the Year.

Kaua‘i currently has three players on the team: Punzal, Emma Makepa-Foley of Koloa and Tiffany Ikeda-Simao of Lihu‘e.

Hawai‘i takes on Long Beach State at 7 p.m. on Wednesday at the Waipi‘o stadium.

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