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Island (In)Fusion: Wou Soccer On A Roll Behind Young Talent

MONMOUTH - Thursday's shutout against Simon Fraser set a school record for nine in a single season, but the Western Oregon soccer team was just getting started. Saturday, The Wolves welcomed No. 2 Western Washington to Monmouth and upset them with their 10th shutout making them 5-0-1 in the month of October. A strong back line combined with an infusion of young talent up front have led WOU soccer to one of its finest seasons in years."In the three seasons we have been here, it is the best year we've had," WOU coach Steve Ancheta said. "Overall, the program has had some tough years, but this has been a real successful season. We have been in every game and in this league that isn't easy."The season began with managing expectations after losing seven seniors, but the new talent for the Wolves has been a big surprise. Part of that surprise has been freshmen Taylor Higa and Kealakekua (Keala) Makekau who are led up front by Sophomore Makana Pundyke. hey all have one thing in common besides scoring goals - they traded sun and surf of their home state Hawaii for the four seasons of Oregon. Journey to the mainland The transition from high school and club soccer in Hawaii to college soccer at Western Oregon hasn't been too difficult for the trio, thanks to their shared backgrounds.Even though Makekau and Higa never played with or against Pundyke in Hawaii because she lived on a different island.Higa did recall playing in a match against Makekau, "She elbowed me and gave me a black eye." Makekau didn't recall that particular incident, but apologized with a smile anyway. The trio started playing soccer at six years old and began to realize they had a future during their high school years. "In high school you start to realize what you can do and where that can take you in life," Higa said. All three were motivated to come to the mainland to play college soccer, for new experiences and to get off the islands for a while. "Overall soccer is the same here as it is Hawaii," Makekau said. "Except it gets a lot colder here," Higa interjected. Pundyke, having already gone through the experience of Pacific Northwest seasons last year laughed, "Just wait a couple more weeks, they will be in long sleeves and Under Armor."They also noted there is a little difference in the distance traveled to away games. "It takes so long to get everywhere, but the road trips are a great experience," Pundyke said."I think the longest road trip in high school was an hour to Oahu - so having the chance to travel and see a lot of different states is fun," Higa added. Island chemistry It isn't an exact science but, coach Steve Ancheta thinks there could be something to the island chemistry, "They are all good friends off the field and they have that connection of having family back there. They understand where each other is coming from," he said. "There are a lot of Hawaiians that attend Western Oregon so I think that helps a lot with players coming here," Pundyke said. "We've had good vibes between the three of us since we started. It's been fun," Higa added. Photo by Landon Kafka FreshmanTaylor Higa has been a catalyst for the WOU offense this season tallying 5 assists Those good vibes have led to a good output up front for the Hawaiians. Pundyke is leading the team in scoring with eight goals with Higa as her partner in crime assisting on five goals this season. Makekau also came to the team this season and has tallied two goals and an assist. "We had pretty much a whole new squad going into this year, when I first saw these guys play I was confident we would be good," Pundyke said. "We have to represent Hawaii because we know they are checking up on us. All agree, whether Hawaiian or mainland, once you're part of the Wolves you have a mainland family. "As a freshman coming in I was a little bit timid, but the older girls have been great and taught me a lot," Higa said. "We all push each other to be the best we can on the field - I love these girls and wouldn't want to be on any other team." Peaking at the right time Higa and Pundyke connected for a goal Thursday afternoon and that momentum took the Wolves to a big win against Western Washington, all but locking up a spot in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference final four. "That had to be the best moment of the season so far," Higa said. "Western Washington was undefeated until they played us so I think that really showed how far we have come this season.""We are excited about where the season is going," Ancheta said. "We've been in every game we've played and that is encouraging." The Wolves have outscored their opponents 19-5. The win over Western Washington has given them the confidence they need to compete for a league title. Ancheta is hoping his island connection can put a few more shots in the goal as the season progresses. "Taylor and Makana have been great up front. They are tough competitors and never take a minute off," Ancheta said. "They will be an important factor offensively the rest of this season." The Wolves have four games left on the schedule before the GNAC final four in Seattle Nov. 7-9.

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