HPU women are off to fast start in hoops
By Kalani Takase
Advertiser Staff Writer
Hawai'i Pacific women's basketball coach Jeff Harada has his team just where he wants it.
The Sea Warriors are sitting pretty atop the Pacific West Conference, having reeled off nine straight wins to open league play and are 13-4 overall.
"I'm pleased with where we are, but when I looked at the schedule (in preseason), this is where I expected we would be," Harada said.
HPU is 2 1/2 games ahead of its nearest PacWest challenger, but Harada knows his team has yet to play its toughest foes.
The Sea Warriors have seven games remaining, including two each against Dixie State and Grand Canyon, which are currently tied for second at 6-2.
"Right now, I would think of us and Dixie State as the upper-tier teams in the PacWest, but Grand Canyon is still the premier team in the conference," Harada said of the two-time defending PacWest champion Antelopes. "We understand that we still have a lot of basketball left and that it will only get tougher from here on out. The players understand that we will have a lot to prove in these games, but at the same time, they know that every night we have to stay focused or we can get beat."
Leading the way for the Sea Warriors has been a pair of Konawaena High products. Forwards Jazzmin Awa-Williams (5-9, Jr.) and Mana Hopkins-Vandenakker (5-10, So.) average 12.6 and 12.1 points per game, respectively.
"Jazz and Mana have really stepped up, but it's been a team effort," Harada said, noting the loss of reigning PacWest Newcomer of the Year Tiffany Wilson to a season-ending ACL injury in December. "Those two are looked at as our scorers, but our point guards have done a good job distributing the ball while limiting our turnovers and our post players are rebounding well. Everybody has been very unselfish in accepting their roles and they're really buying into it."
Forward Genesis Lewis (6-0, Sr.) averages 11.8 points and 8.3 rebounds per game while guard Paris Gravely (5-5, So.) adds 10.9 points per game.
Harada said the difference from last season's 14-15 campaign is experience.
"Last year, we had an almost brand new team with three freshman starters," Harada said. "I think it took them a year to transition to the different level of play, the competitiveness and the physical pounding they take each night. With a year under their belts, they understand now what it takes to compete night in and night out in this conference."
Harada said his team set three goals for this season.
"Our first goal was that we wanted to be the best team in Hawai'i," Harada said. "Our second goal was to be the best team in the conference and the third was to make the NCAA Tournament, so if we achieve No. 1, we can achieve No. 2 and if we do one and two, then we can do No. 3."
The PacWest champion receives an automatic berth to the NCAA Division II Tournament.
"Ultimately, that is our goal," Harada said. "We're playing well right now and having a good year, so hopefully we can keep that going."
Despite a potentially huge showdown against Grand Canyon on Sunday at Blaisdell Arena, Harada said his team is only focused on tomorrow's game against Dominican.
"Dominican is a team that we've played once and we were able to come out with a win, but you never want to look past an opponent," Harada said.
UH-HILO WINS, 6-3
Michael Dietrich hit a two-run single in a four-run third inning to help Hawai'i-Hilo to a 6-3 victory over Northwest Nazarene last night at Wong Stadium.
UHH is 3-2. Northwest Nazarene is 2-3.