Practice is still more than 20 minutes from beginning, but Unity Beddingfield is greeted by a welcome and familiar sight after she climbs the stairs to get to the University of Hawaii at Hilo soccer field.
Most of the players on her women’s team are already out on the field and ready to get down to business.
“My girls, overachievers,” she said. “They get out here early, and they start working. The question is, how long have they been up here by themselves?”
Certainly long enough to have made a very positive impression on their first-time coach. Beddingfield is confident that this year’s UH-Hilo women’s team has the drive to develop into a winner. A program that has struggled with an identity in recent years is once again trying to establish a new one.
Marc Miranda was let go after his freshmen-laden team finished 5-9-2 a season ago and seventh in the Pacific West Conference, and Beddingfield will try to bring some much-needed stability as the Lady Vulcans’ fourth coach in five years.
“It was a shock, and we didn’t see it coming,” junior Lindsey Poulsen said of the coaching change. “But we weren’t winning, and part of sports is making changes to try and win.”
Beddingfield intends to start winning immediately, establishing a top-three finish in the PacWest as the team’s goal. That would signify a big turnaround, but she noted that the cupboard was far from bare when she arrived from San Bernardino Valley College, where she was an assistant.
“There is a lot of talent out there,” she said, “and I’m excited because they have a lot of potential to go very far and the hunger to get there.”
Beddingfield’s just seven years out of high school and close in age to many of her players, but she’s happy to have inherited a responsive group that’s eager to improve.
“I see (last season’s results), but that’s last year’s team,” she said. “We have old players; we have new players. This is a new team. We’re going to have a fresh start.”
Eight players expected to start today’s 2 p.m. opener against Drexel on Oahu made at least three starts last season, but the Vulcans still are very much a young team. There’s only one senior on the roster, goalkeeper Helen Schrock, and 11 upperclassmen in all among 29 players. The Vulcans will have some local flavor as well, with five former Big Island Interscholastic Federation players set to contribute.
The top three scorers are back — Poulsen, Kristine Pasek and Brianne Lopiccolo accounted for 19 of the Vulcans’ 23 goals last season — and Beddingfield expects freshman Teisha Nacis to make an immediate impact as an attacking midfielder after a prolific scoring career down the street at Waiakea.
While Pasek showed a penchant for being in the right place and racked up goals early last season as a freshman, Poulsen struggled offensively at midfield. A move to forward gave her a spark, and she finished with a team-high 18 points as she and Pasek (team-high eight goals) created a formidable duo up top, and they’ll try to build on that chemistry this season. Junior Analysa Rodriguez, who played in 15 games last year, is the other forward, and Poulsen envisions the group being a handful for opponents.
“We’re all really fast, and I think it’s going to be dangerous because they are going to lose track of us a lot,” Poulsen said. “We have a lot of girls who are going to step up and put goals in the back of the net.”
Nacis had a knack for that as a Warrior, using her speed and finishing skills to earn BIIF player of the year honors as a junior.
Nacis will be joined at midfield by two other Big Islanders, junior Lianne Yamane, a Waiakea graduate who started all 16 matches last season, and junior Lauren Grace-Finley, a Kealakehe graduate.
Lopiccolo used her big leg and sound technical skills to score four goals and register 11 points as a freshman a season year ago.
Among the newcomers is junior midfielder Lindsey Walter, a transfer from the University of Mississippi, while sophomore Moressa Lindsey also will get playing time in UH-Hilo’s 3-4-3 alignment.
Sophomore Chloe Nishioka, a Hilo High graduate who made seven starts in 2011, will form the back line, along with transfer Jenn Rubin and sophomore Gina Tumasone.
There’s plenty of depth and experience with sophomores Aja Warner, a former teammate of Nacis’ at Waiakea, and Taylor Wright, and junior Emily Cadiz.