CRAIG KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Hawaii Pacific coach Elizabeth O'Brien signed Kelley Morey to be the program's first player over the summer.
O’Brien begins HPU’s program from the ground up
Hawaii Pacific women's basketball coach Elizabeth O'Brien is enjoying a rare opportunity.
With the sport well established at all levels of collegiate play, it's hard to find a school where a coach can build a program from the court up -- and all in less than a year.
But since being announced as head coach of the Sea Warriors' inaugural women's hoops squad last April, she's had exactly that chance.
"There are not many places out there that don't have women's basketball anymore," O'Brien said. To start a program is "quite interesting, because you have to start with everything from buying socks and shoes and basketballs, to finding a place to play and getting a team. Getting the team was almost the easier part."
HPU and the three other state Div. II schools have been affiliated with the Pacific West Conference since the 1990s. But in the 2005-06 school year, just the four Hawaii schools operated as the PacWest under a waiver, after the departure of two mainland schools the previous year.
This school year the PacWest became an official NCAA Division II conference again with the addition of Notre Dame de Namur (Belmont, Calif.) and Grand Canyon (Phoenix, Ariz.) as full-fledged members.
With NDNU and GCU already having women's basketball, one thing the Hawaii schools all decided to do to satisfy NCAA requirements regarding the number of team sports and gender equity was start programs for the first time.
With 10 years of NCAA coaching experience, O'Brien was most recently the director of basketball operations for University of Hawaii women's coach Jim Bolla last season.
She jumped at the chance to not only head, but also build from scratch, her own team.
"There're a million different moving pieces, but they've all come together pretty well," O'Brien said.
Still, the start of play has been far from easy for HPU. Nor will it likely get any easier right away.
The Sea Warriors were throttled, 104-42, by Division I UH in an exhibition this month.
So far, 5-foot-8 junior shooting guard Kelley Morey -- the first player signed by O'Brien and a second-team all-conference player at Clackamas Community College (Ore.) -- has been a standout. HPU is also relying heavily on junior point guard Ashley Jenkins and freshman post Shannon Miyashiro. A local product out of Roosevelt High, the 5-10 Miyashiro will have to give inside presence to the perimeter-oriented Sea Warriors.
Here is a quick look at the three other Hawaii teams:
Former Hawaii state high school coach of the year Wendy Anae is the Seasiders' head coach. The one-time coach of neighboring Kahuku High's girls team, Anae returned to Hawaii to start the BYUH program after a year at a Utah high school.
Not surprisingly, there are three former Red Raiders on the roster, led by 6-0 junior post Latoya Wily, who last played at Div. I Alcorn State (Miss.) and was Anae's go-to player while both were at Kahuku. From Utah, freshman guard Kayla Burningham will also be counted on.
Silverswords head coach Cory O'Dell spent the past three seasons as an assistant with the men's program, but the five before that as an assistant for the women's team at Alaska-Anchorage. "This is really what I was after, and I was really happy I didn't have to leave Oahu to do that," he said.
O'Dell expects to depend significantly on local freshman point guard Samantha Saito (Sacred Hearts), and three junior college transfers in guards Marian Murphy and Katherine Carlisle, and swing Simrin Cummins.
The Vulcans are the Hawaii team most loaded with local players to start its first season. Nine of 11 on the roster played high school ball in the islands, led by former two-time Big Island player of the year Sheila Azevedo (Waiakea), a 5-10 sophomore forward.
"In all my years of coaching high school girls basketball, there have been many talented players who stopped playing after high school because the opportunities weren't there to stay home and play," UHH head coach Daphne Honma said on the Vulcans' Web site.