The Rainbow Wahine basketball team got off to a running start in their first full practice of the new season.
Laura Beeman set the tone and pace early in the opening practice of her sixth season as head coach Monday afternoon in UH’s Gym 2.
“We started out practice with a lot of transition, getting up and down the floor, working our conditioning,” Beeman said.
“We have to get up and down the floor this year, so everyone’s got to be able to run it. So practice will start every day with a lot of transition drills and a lot of expectations and goals to reach during those drills.”
Setting expectations was another theme for the 2 1/2 practice.
Coming off a 12-18 season (7-9 Big West), the Wahine return nine letterwinners, including five starters, and three redshirts off a team that tied for sixth in the Big West. They reeled off four straight wins late in the season before being eliminated by Cal State Northridge in the BWC tournament quarterfinals.
“Going through those growing pains of last year is definitely helping us right now,” junior guard Olivia Crawford said.
Beeman’s reflections on last year’s growing pains led to “a different tone, a different expectation and a different level of intensity.” Her review of the on-court looks the Wahine showed last season also necessitated alterations to the schemes.
“There’s going to be the same Hawaii basketball, but we needed to change some things up based on our personnel,” Beeman said. “Some of the stuff we ran last year just wasn’t good for our personnel, so we had to change things up. Defensively, you’re going to see the same type of Hawaii, but it has to be better.”
Three new assistant coaches — Courtney Locke, Berry Randle and Darron Larsen — also figure to add new perspectives to the program. Larsen was absent from Monday’s practice while recruiting in New Zealand.
“They’re very, very professional. They come to work every day to work,” Beeman said. “They’re connecting with the kids in a very mature way. … All of them are bringing in something different to the table and I’m thoroughly enjoying it.”
While the Wahine are stocked with returnees, the roster remains relatively young with four freshmen (including a redshirt from last season), five sophomores, five junior and senior Sarah Toeaina.
“She knows the she’s going to have to be our go-to girl at times, but she’s not going to have to be the go-to girl every single night,” Beeman said of Toeaina, a first-team All-Big West pick last season. “We’ve got a lot around her. I think that takes some pressure off her. So she’s playing very loose night now and that’s the way we have to keep Sarah playing.”
Junior guards Tia Kanoa and Rachel Odumu spent last season heading the scout team after transferring from Arizona State and Monmouth, respectively, and add depth and experience to the backcourt rotation.
“They understand the expectations,” Beeman said. “They both came from Division I schools, they will bring us some leadership and some intensity that’s needed and some depth in some positions. It’s going to take a while to get their feet underneath them after being out a year, but very excited.”
The guard group also includes Crawford, BWC all-freshman pick Julissa Tago, sophomore Courtney Middap and freshman Jadynn Alexander.
Junior forwards Lahni and Leah Salanoa combined to hit 72 3-pointers and 6-foot freshman Amy Atwell adds another outside shooting threat after sitting out last season while rehabbing a knee injury.
The frontcourt also returns sophomore forwards Makenna Woodfolk, Taylor Donohue and Keleah-Aiko Koloi, who learned on the go as freshmen. While they now have a year of experience to build upon, freshmen Lauren Rewers (6-4) and Mackenzie Clinch Hoycard (6-3) are making similar transitions to college ball.
“Our bigs are going to get playing time again at a very young age,” Beeman said. “They’re going to have high expectations, but they can handle it.”