Hawaii appears to be on rebound
By Ann Miller
Advertiser Staff Writer
Rainbow Wahine basketball's first season with Dana Takahara-Dias as head coach began and ended with crowds that were shockingly large for a team accustomed to living in relative Mānoa obscurity.
Nearly 2,000 fans, and friends, bought tickets for an early November scrimmage against Hawai'i Pacific, and there were 250 at Sunday's banquet honoring the team and lone senior Dita Liepkalne, who graduates with a degree in speech next month. A year earlier, the 'Bows were lucky to draw 500 to a game and barely had 50 at their banquet.
In between the scrimmage and banquet was a 10-20 season that, in a statement that speaks volumes for the frustration of the previous year, was a massive improvement. The most obvious differences were that Hawai'i won two more games than 2008-2009, and its coach was not suspended and then let go.
There were struggles to be sure: 20 turnovers a game; no Western Athletic Conference road wins, and; the loss of three players to injury and family problems — including the leading scorers from this year and last — and two more who left the program.
There were also strides, most clearly in attitude, energy and organization. The Rainbow Wahine were relentless, even when they were overmatched. It was a trait opposing coaches brought up often as the season wore on.
Next year, Takahara expects more — from herself, her players and her staff. They have had a year together and there will be six seniors, including Megan Tinnin and Mai Ayabe who — along with freshman Shawna Kuehu — are eager to come back from lost seasons.
There will be at least three new faces.
Assistant coach Patrick Knapp has resigned and the timing — his last day is April 30 — allows for a comprehensive search this time around. This is the final day to apply for his position.
A junior college point guard, who was at the banquet, is expected to sign a letter of intent today along with incoming guard Sydney Haydel, from Los Angeles. There could also be a couple new post players later.
Haydel, who verbally committed last summer, just helped Harvard-Westlake to its first state championship. She scored 20 points in the final and inspired her coach to say she "dominated both sides of the court." Harvard-Westlake was 22nd in the final USA Today poll.
The season opens with a four-team tournament Nov. 18. The WAC Tournament will be at Orleans Arena in Las Vegas March 9 to 12. The Rainbows could face a dozen teams that reached the postseason this year in between.
As the video predicted at the banquet, "The Journey Continues" for Rainbow Wahine basketball's self-proclaimed "New Era."
"You will see the same style of play," Takahara promises. "You will still see a lot of heart, determination and a never-say-die attitude. I hope the results will be different."
More than anyone, she knows the win-loss honeymoon is over.
"There comes a point in time when you have to produce," Takahara said. "We enjoyed this season with a change in coaches and bringing back the ohana atmosphere, but what really matters, too, is wins and losses. That's something we need to work on. I think it will come, I really do. I believe we will be exciting with the players we have back and six seniors next year. Much will be expected of them."
Much is expected of Takahara, particularly by those who know her best, and that includes many who came Sunday to say goodbye to Liepkalne and celebrate what is being called the "season of transition."
"I love the feeling we had from the banquet," Takahara said. "It was overwhelming to see that many people, so now we're more excited about next year because hopefully word has spread."