By BILL O’REAR
Tribune-Herald sports editor
University of Hawaii at Hilo women’s basketball coach David Kaneshiro faces a strong challenge this year with only one senior and 10 newcomers on a 15-player roster.
But following the Vulcans’ preseason conditioning program, Kaneshiro said he’s optimistic his squad will continue to fare well in the Pacific West Conference standings.
Last year, the Vulcans finished with a 13-11 overall record, including fifth place in the PacWest with a 10-7 mark. They were eliminated in the opening round of the conference’s inaugural league tournament.
“We’ve got a great group of girls to work with this year,” Kaneshiro said as the Lady Vulcans got set to hold their first official practice at the UHH Gym.
“During conditioning, they challenged themselves every day. They worked really hard with positive attitudes. We have a lot of girls who lead by example and that’s helped with building good team chemistry. We’re still a work-in-progress, but so far I like what I’ve seen.”
Kaneshiro, in his fourth season at the helm, said this year’s squad is different from last year’s senior-dominated team.
“This year, we’re overall bigger in size with good skills and have a pretty good basketball IQ,” he said. “We’re not as quick, but I think we still handle the ball well and should make good decisions.”
Kamie Imai, a 5-foot-9 guard, is the lone returning senior. Last year, the former Waiakea High School standout and Utah State transfer led UHH in scoring (10.9 points per game), rebounding (7.3) and assists (83) while earning all-PacWest second team honors.
“We’ll look to Kamie again to do a lot of things for us,” Kaneshiro said. “But we’ll also need our other returnees and the newcomers to step up to make us a better team. We’ve got a lot of work to do and we’re excited about the season.”
The other returnees are junior Thea Hanato-Smith (5-5 guard out of Konawaena High), redshirt freshman Tricia Amuimuia (5-8 forward out of Waiakea High) and junior Chelsey Santos (5-3 guard out of Hilo High).
The newcomers include junior college transfers Charlotte “CC” Rode (5-8 junior guard, from Albuquerque, N.M.), Whitney Edens (5-6 junior guard, Cloverdale, Calif.), Danielle Kooyman (6-0 junior forward, Chandler, Ariz.), Kirstie Williams (5-6 junior guard, Lincoln, Calif.), Hayley Reynolds (5-11 junior forward, Yoncalla, Ore.) and McKenzie Mangino (5-10 junior center, Ukiah, Calif.); Sacramento State transfer Jordan Kealoha (5-3 guard, Mid-Pacific, Oahu); and freshmen Alexa Jacobs (5-8 guard, Glendale, Ariz.), Chelsea Poe (5-5 guard, Kamehameha-Hawaii), Kiana Lee (5-11 forward, San Diego) and Katie Emmer (5-8 forward, Delano, N.M.).
“A good number of our players came from successful programs and they know what it takes to be a good player and a good team,” Kaneshiro said. “They’re very receptive and we’re hoping they get better and better as the season goes on.”
The Vulcans open their season with an exhibition game against Division I University of Hawaii on Oct. 30 in Honolulu. On Nov. 18-19, UHH hosts the University of Alaska-Fairbanks.