Transitions are underway in Rainbow Wahine Soccer at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, including new leadership for the team and a new academic focus for one of its players.
Head Coach Pinsoom Tenzing announced his retirement after 17 years as head coach, three Western Athletic Conference championships (’03, ’05, ’07) and two WAC Coach of the Year honors.
“I have coached non-stop since 1978. In that span, I have had dizzying highs, coached memorable personalities and have guided some divine student-athletes,” reflects Tenzing, who founded women’s soccer as a club sport in 1992.
His successor is Michele Nagamine, who has made her mark on the club, high school and collegiate levels. Like Tenzing, she is known for paying attention to the academic side of the student athlete. And she has a reputation as a program builder, most recently at Hawaiʻi Pacific University.
During three years as head women’s soccer coach, the 2009 PacWest Coach of the Year turned a team that won just three games in 2007 into a conference contender. Under Nagamine, the Division II Lady Sea Warriors achieved a second straight winning record and were the only team in the nation defeat regionally-top ranked BYU-Hawaiʻi during the regular-season.
Mānoa is counting on the same magic after two consecutive losing seasons. That comes too late for co-captain Mari Punzal and three teammates who concluded their senior year in 2010.
The 5-foot-6-inch midfielder from Kapaʻa, Kauaʻi, was a four-year letter winner at Kamehameha Schools Kapalama Campus, which won back-to-back state championships in ’06 and ’07, and was named 2007 state player of the year by both the Honolulu Star-Bulletin and The Honolulu Advertiser. She finished the 2010 season as team leader in shots, and was second in points, goals and assists.
“I’m going to miss going to soccer practice,” she says, thanking the coaching staff for “pushing me and keeping me strong” and the university for its support, which included a partial scholarship when, coming off a injury, she missed the summer tournaments frequented by university coaches on the recruiting trail.
She says a highlight her collegiate career was “riding a trolley, high-fiving everyone in Waikīkī” after winning the WAC.
A family resources major and one of 14 soccer players named to the 2010 Scholar-Athletes list, Punzal plans to pursue a nursing degree with a neonatal focus. “I really like anatomy and physiology and the sciences—that intrigues me, and with nursing you’re always going to be learning, ” says Punzal, who was one of 14 Wahine soccer players named to the 2010 Scholar-Athletes list. “It’s not just a routine job. I feel like you can apply nursing to anything, and I like the idea of making people feel at ease. I care.”
Punzal grew up playing tough with two older brothers, who didn’t give her breaks for being younger or a girl. She played on boys’ soccer teams for her first two years. But one pre-game ritual at UH was all girl: tying a ribbon in her hair. The other, chewing gum, keeps her calm and focused.
Post-game, the youngest sibling got a taste of being the role model. “It’s really overwhelming, because I was in their position watching Natasha Kai when I was in high school thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, that would be so cool to play for home and represent Hawaiʻi,’” she says. “My sophomore year at UH was crazy because this high school girl came up to me and said, ‘I’ve been watching you, and I heard that you tore your ACL, and I’m going through the same thing right now, so I was wondering if you could give me any advice.’ I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, she knows my story!’ I was stoked. And when little kids come up to me and ask me to sign their shirts, I just feel like a rock star.”
Sports, she says, teaches children things they can’t learn in a classroom. “It gives you drive, emphasizes accountability and teaches you teamwork.”
This article was adapted from Mānoa Athletics Department sources and AKA magazine, published by ʻAhahui Koa Anuenue, the official fundraising organization for Mānoa athletics.