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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, April 30, 2006

Coaches see bright future for UH men and women

By Ann Miller
Advertiser Staff Writer

Heinemann

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No. 1 singles player Chloe Bihag, top, and No. 2 Kana Aikawa each had seven wins this season.

JOAQUIN SIOPACK | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Down in Manoa's quarry, on the refurbished University of Hawai'i tennis courts with their refurbished Rainbow teams, coaches John Nelson and Jun Hernandez have very disparate words to describe their seasons.

Strangely, they speak of the future in almost identical terms.

Nelson's men earned the program's first national ranking, upsetting No. 70 Purdue and No. 40 Arizona State in the space of three days to debut at No. 59 in the 75-team ITA ranking.

The 'Bows are 69th now, after reaching the semifinals of the WAC Tournament for the first time, then falling to No. 46 Fresno State in their final match. Four of the six singles matches went three sets.

Hawai'i finished 10-6, with the WAC Freshman of Year in Sascha Heinemann. He is the program's first all-WAC first-team player in a decade.

Nelson, in his third year, summed up the season simply as "successful."

"The guys learned what hard work does," he said. "They never paid attention to what people thought. They just did what they wanted to do and put us on the map."

Heinemann, from Germany, was an anchor at No. 1 at 14-7. He won nine straight as the Rainbows surged into the rankings.

His senior teammates were no slouches. Bryon Weinberg and Ryan Sceats were all-WAC second-team selections at Nos. 2 and 3. Sceats, recruited from Australia by former coach Jim Schwitters, won 66 singles matches in his career. He also earned all-WAC honors with Jarrod Diepraam, a senior from South Africa, in doubles. Weinberg, from Toronto, is up for his third ITA Scholar-Athlete honor this year. The final senior is Yasuo Sakurai from Japan.

"On the court," Hernandez said of the men, "each of those players believe they can compete with anyone in the nation."

In contrast, Hernandez inherited no seniors and only one returning singles player when UH named him coach in January. He had no wins until the Rainbow Wahine took four of their last seven to finish 4-18-1.

Chloe Bihag and Kana Aikawa were forced to shoot up five spots to Nos. 1 and 2 this year. They had seven wins apiece. Junior Samanta Cappella had a team-high eight.

Hawai'i beat Louisiana Tech in the WAC Tournament play-in match before falling to Fresno State in the quarterfinals. The Bulldogs went on to win their fifth straight conference title.

Hernandez called the season "challenging." He and his players were hardly humbled.

"Over the past four months I've seen a huge improvement out of each one of my players," Hernandez said. "The work ethic alone ... they come out to learn. They are always excited. You can see the hunger for coaching they have."

Nelson saw enough of the Rainbow Wahine to know Hernandez is not blowing smoke.

"There was an enthusiasm and joy of learning. They had a good attitude," Nelson said. "They were improving. At one point I talked to Julia (Sandborn) and she was a little bummed about a loss. I told her, 'You realize my guys have been doing the same thing you're doing for three years. Trust me, you're on track.' All their games improved. Their attitudes improved."

Hernandez's recruiting at Cal earned him 2002 Northwest Region assistant coach of the year honors. He hopes to bring in up to six players for his first recruiting class here and is encouraged by news of the past two weeks. So much so that he is predicting a Top 20 ranking for his team as soon as next year. Nelson echoes that for the men, and throws in a WAC title.

Stanford, Cal and Pepperdine all in the Top 25 are among the men's teams coming in next season, and Nelson hopes to debut a tournament. So does Hernandez, who is bringing in Cal and Northwestern, both Top 10.

Reach Ann Miller at amiller@honoluluadvertiser.com.