Takahara targeting 'athletic' recruits
by Stanley Lee
Advertiser Staff Writer
RENO, Nev. — After the emotional goodbyes that concluded the season, the Rainbow Wahine basketball coaching staff started working on next season.
As the team departed Reno after the Western Athletic Conference Tournament, Hawai'i coaches scattered in all directions in search of recruits, hoping an infusion of new talent combined with 11 returnees will solidify the foundation built this year.
The staff focused on the National Junior College Athletic Association Tournament last week. They are hoping for a mix of junior college and high school players to fill the roster.
"We're trying very, very hard to recruit players, athletic players that can play multiple positions," Hawai'i coach Dana Takahara-Dias said. "We're looking at players that can play 94 feet of basketball that are very studious and we want to make sure that's the case, the ones we bring will finish their education and get a degree."
The Rainbow Wahine went 10-20 in Takahara's first season that ended with a loss to Fresno State in the WAC Tournament quarterfinals on Wednesday. Takahara and her staff took over the program late in the summer, putting them behind in scheduling, recruiting, and implementing a system. Facing a bigger task was being asked to bring together a team that went 8-23 last year, culminating in the firing of head coach Jim Bolla.
Along the way, the Rainbow Wahine lost guards Shawna Kuehu and Mai Ayabe to season-ending ACL injuries and finished the year with just nine players. They beat one team that qualified for the NCAA Tournament in Big West Tournament champion UC Riverside.
"It doesn't show up on the record but they're probably the most improved team throughout the conference season from the first time to the end, out of all us," Fresno State coach Adrian Wiggins said. "I think they really established who they want to become. They did a good job."
There were games when the 'Bows were simply outmatched in talent and athleticism, but Takahara said her players never stopped competing.
"I really think that they played hard, gave great effort — we never gave up," Takahara said. "That's the foundation to set for future years, that's the style we want all our payers to emulate. When you infuse that with recruits, that's going to be exciting for basketball for future years."
The Rainbow Wahine lose senior Dita Liepkalne, whom they wished well after the WAC Tournament. It was an emotional time as coaches thanked the players for a season they all felt ended too early.
The Rainbow Wahine return players with leadership and experience. Point guard Keisha Kanekoa led the team in scoring with 11.2 points per game. Kuehu was the team's leading scorer before a season-ending ACL injury in November. Megan Tinnin, the leading scorer the previous year, will return after taking the season off.
"It's still a young team, they still have a lot to improve on for next year," said Liepkalne, who graduates in May. "They have learned and accomplished a lot from previous years and I'm just excited for the years to come for Wahine basketball."
Takahara said she saw many successes this season. The night before the 'Bows left Reno, they had a final team dinner with their supporters and athletic administration who came for the trip. She was amazed to see the team's growth as not just players, but as women.
"The season went by in a hurry for sure," Takahara said. "We just look forward to next year, getting an infusion of recruits to complement the returnees. That's a real positive for us. This team has grown and matured tremendously this season into a team that battles every game."
The Rainbow Wahine Basketball banquet is April 11 at Ala Moana Hotel. Cocktails start at 5:30 p.m., with dinner and the program at 6:45. Registration deadline is April 1. Cost is $55 for Wahine Basketball Booster Club members, $65 for the public and $30 for children. Table sponsorships, for eight guests and two players, are also available. Contact Mel Nakao at 220-1585 or firstname.lastname@example.org.