PacWest women looking for respect
Now that the first season of NCAA Division II women's basketball in Hawaii is a thing of the past, the Pacific West Conference's four island-based teams look to build the strength and profile of the league this winter.
Brigham Young-Hawaii, Chaminade, Hawaii-Hilo and Hawaii Pacific all debuted their women's teams last season for a combined 27-74 record.
The defending PacWest regular-season champion, Grand Canyon (Ariz.), was selected by the league's seven coaches to repeat.
The Antelopes went 23-4 with a 17-game winning streak and perfect 15-0 mark in conference play, but were snubbed by NCAA tournament voters in the postseason.
The PacWest is still at least a year away from receiving automatic postseason berths while two of its newest members, Dixie State (Utah) and Notre Dame de Namur (Calif.), transition to full-time Division II.
"The reward right now is the conference title, which I think is a big reward," commissioner Bob Hogue said. "Having sat on one of the regional advising committees, I know that the PacWest is respected in other sports as well, and I think we have an opportunity for a (women's) team to receive an at-large bid in the NCAA regionals."
The conference features Division II's leading rebounder from a year ago, Brigham Young-Hawaii's Latoya Wily. The Kahuku graduate and transfer from Division I Alcorn State (Miss.) averaged conference highs of 20.5 points and 14.2 rebounds while playing in front of family and friends in Laie, and under her former high school coach, Wendy Anae.
"I was born and raised here and I feel like being in Hawaii, we don't have much exposure to other colleges, so (having women's D-II basketball here) is big for the younger generation," said Wily, who set a school record with 25 rebounds at Hawaii-Hilo. "I know that everybody's competition level has stepped up from last year."
As a result of her contributions, Wily was named to the preseason All-PacWest team, and the Seasiders were tabbed as the top Hawaii-based conference team and second overall.
Hawaii-Hilo men's coach Jeff Law feels the women's basketball teams will only serve to grow the PacWest's popularity and fan base on both sides of the gender equation.
"(On the Big Island) the high school basketball for girls has been very successful," Law said. "There's a lot of support, lot of interest, and that's helped our program."
The Seasiders start their season Friday vs. Western Washington.
Byuh (13-12, 12-4 last year)
The double-doubles piled up rapidly for Latoya Wily (20.5 ppg, 14.2 rpg) last year as the 6-foot forward/center dominated on the inside. Her coach looks for more of the same this year.
"Latoya's biggest strength is her leadership on the court," Anae said. "And she brings a huge presence inside, and always seems to get open. Our struggle is getting her the ball."
Chaminade (6-19, 5-12 last year)
The Silverswords are exploring the possibility of a preseason game at Hawaii-Hilo to build their experience prior to the conference season; six of the 10 players on Chaminade's roster are freshmen and sophomores. Simrin Cummins (10 ppg, 3.9 rpg) is the top returner.
"We're in a transition phase right now but we have a young group who work hard and are still trying to get together," coach Christina Apisa said. "We're looking forward to bringing the competition to another level for Chaminade."
UH-Hilo (6-18, 6-10 last year)
Daphne Honma, the 18-year coach for Honokaa High and three-time Big Island Interscholastic Federation coach of the year, takes over the helm for the Vulcans, picked to finish second from last.
"Our team has a good mix of returnees and newcomers," Honma said. "It's going to be really exciting, and we're just looking forward to playing."
Ashley Kualii (9.5 ppg, 6 apg) is the top returner.
HPU (2-25, 2-15 last year)
First-year head coach Jeff Harada, a former assistant coach and sports information director for the Sea Warriors, takes over a two-win team that will ask a lot of Ashley Jenkins (15.9 ppg, 6.4 rpg).
"Last year wasn't a great start for us but we're going to try to build our program and lay a foundation of good work ethic from our team," Harada said. "We had a very close-knit group with our returnees and they've responded well together."