The Hawaii women’s basketball team is just about ready to make history.
The Rainbow Wahine, who have never embarked on a foreign tour in program annals, leave for New Zealand and Australia on Tuesday for 10 days and four games as a prelude to their 2018-19 season, in what has been dubbed the “Hawaiian Airlines & Rainbow Wahine Basketball Go The Distance Tour.”
UH will be hitting the cities of Auckland, Christchurch, Melbourne and Sydney, in that order. On the final day, they might overlap with the Rainbow Warrior hoops team, which is coincidentally concluding its own Australia tour at the same time in Sydney.
Laura Beeman’s team is largely intact from last season (12-18, 5-11 Big West), with one key exception — four-year guard Sarah Toeaina, an All-Big West standout, has graduated. There are three newcomers: freshman forward Myrrah Joseph, junior guard Savannah Reier and freshman guard Lamarria Johnson.
“In the bigger picture — let’s take the wins and losses out of it — I want us to just have great moments together,” Beeman said. “I want us to have great team building, to experience a different culture, to understand a different part of the world. As full as our schedule is, we’re trying to do a lot of events, I also want it to be a time for these girls to get to know each other. Not stay in their same cliques, but to get outside each other and get outside their box a little bit.”
Are you ✈️ with us, or are a resident of 🇳🇿🇦🇺, or just 🤔 about the international tour? Here's an update on our schedule of games! 🌈🏀 pic.twitter.com/q6MQhQgr0F
— Wahine Basketball (@WahineBBall) August 3, 2018
By NCAA rule, the team was allotted 10 full practices in advance of the trip. UH has fast-tracked its newcomers in the Stan Sheriff Center.
“As far as the basketball part of it, I want to go 4-0,” Beeman said. “Is that going to happen? We play some pretty good competition over there. I want to see us make changes, and we have some major areas we have to improve upon as a team that affected us last year. We didn’t have a good awareness last year. We didn’t have the ability to push through things when things got tough. And I’ve already seen a huge shift with this group, and I want to see it over there. We’re going to be tired. There’s going to be traveling, there’s going to be distractions. We’re going to get on the court and I need to see these guys lock in and push through.”
Junior Courtney Middap is one of three returning Australians on the Wahine roster, along with third-year sophomore Amy Atwell and sophomore Mackenzie Clinch Hoycard. This trip was mentioned as being in the works when they were recruited to Manoa.
“I know a lot of the other girls get to experience this when we go on regular road trips (to California), play in front of friends and family,” said Middap, a native of Tasmania who later lived in Melbourne. “It’s really exciting for me to go to a familiar place, have people I know (there), play teams that I know. … Not many people get to do that in their four years of college, go home to play in front of friends and family that are international, especially.”
There’s not a lot known about the roster makeup of their opponents — NZ Premier North, NZ Premier South, Diamond Valley of SEABL, and the ATC Academy — other than they will be a mixture of pros, semi-pros and amateurs.
SEABL is Australia’s second-tier pro league.
“I know the Diamond Valley SEABL team we’re playing in Melbourne,” Middap said. “They’re extremely good. I know they just got knocked out in finals, actually. But they have a player, a young player, who just got back from the Australian national women’s team playing in that, so she’s extremely good. A lot of young, youthful players who’ve played at a high level, so they’re extremely good.”
Junior guard Julissa Tago is taking a foreign trip for the first time in her life. She just got her passport.
“We probably wouldn’t get this opportunity if we didn’t play for a program like this and play at the Division I level. For a lot of us, we never would have left the country if it weren’t for this. It’s going to be a good experience and basketball-wise get us better as well.”
UH will be playing by international rules, so the paint will be a bit wider and 3-point line is farther back. Temporary dimensions were taped on the Stan Sheriff Center court during practice.
“I think some of us will struggle with it but once we get there and we get shots up I think we’ll be fine,” said Tago, who is looking forward to a ziplining event the most of the planned non-basketball activities.
Other activities include a visit up the Auckland Sky Tower, and electric bike tour, a gondola tour of Christchurch, and tours of the Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge.
Former Wahine standout Ashleigh Karaitiana, a New Zealand native who plays for the “Tall Ferns” national team, plans to meet the Wahine at some point during their travels, said Beeman, her former coach.