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Wahine open tomorrow on guards' home island


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POSTED: Thursday, November 13, 2008

The start of the Hawaii women's basketball season tomorrow means just a little bit more to two of the Rainbow Wahine.

Jim Bolla's team flies to the Big Island for the Bank of Hawaii Invitational to kick off the season at 5 p.m. against Loyola Marymount. Another apt name for the four-team round-robin tournament would have been the Keisha Kanekoa and Leilani Galdones Homecoming Party.

Both Big Island natives and sophomore Wahine guards will enjoy playing in front of family and friends who couldn't otherwise see the team play home games at the Stan Sheriff Center.

“;Oh, awesome. Sweet,”; said Kanekoa, a Honokaa graduate. “;Looking forward to playing for a bunch of our local fans. Me and Lei ... it's like a treat for us going back to play in front of a local crowd.”;

The three-games-in-three days tourney will be played at the Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium, technically considered a neutral site for Hawaii. But the support for two of the island's own and the rare chance for people to see Division I women's basketball there should change that.

“;It's even bigger there, because most of the people can't afford flying up here to watch us play,”; said Galdones, a Kamehameha-Hawaii graduate who is from Hilo. “;I think last year it would have been bigger because Saundra (Cariaga) was also here. But a lot of people know us, so I think we'll have a lot of support from people.”;

The Wahine last played on the Big Island in the 1993-94 season against Southern Utah at Waiakea Gym.

Kanekoa and Galdones are probable to start alongside junior Dita Liepkalne, senior Ebony Jones and junior college transfer Sarah Ilic.

The other teams in the tournament are Toledo and Arizona - Hawaii will play them Saturday and Sunday.

Bolla has repeatedly said that this year's team allows for more of a running game because of the players' athleticism. Last year's squad, which bowed out in the quarterfinals of the Western Athletic Conference tournament, finished 12-16 overall and 6-10 in the WAC.

“;I think our two post players run the floor as well or better than anyone in the country,”; Bolla said of Ilic and true freshman Rebecca Dew. “;We're just looking at getting out there and having a chance to play somebody different and get the season started.”;

Hawaii was picked to finish sixth and seventh in the WAC media and coaches polls.

The Wahine lost nightly double-double threat Tanya Smith and the versatile Cariaga from last season, as well as guard Amy Kotani, who ran the point for the second half of the year. Reserves Iwona Zagrobelna and Shannon Nishi also departed.

Kanekoa has been more vocal as she assumes a leadership role, while senior Catherine Cho has slid into the backup point spot. Megan Tinnin, the team's leading scorer among returnees (8.7 points per game), hurt her foot last week and will see reduced minutes to start the year.

Two true freshman swing players, Breanna Arbuckle and Briauna Linton, will look to chip in off the bench at the season's outset. Center Katie Wilson (redshirt) and guard/forward Allie Patterson (transfer) are also available to step in after the two sat out last year. Senior Tara Hittle should again provide a spark in the post once the Hawaii volleyball season is over.

Arbuckle, of Chandler, Ariz., thinks the trip to the Big Island will be a helpful lead-in to some of the brutal road trips of the WAC season.

“;It's so we can get used to the flights and stuff like that, the traveling,”; she said.

Guard Jennifer Hamilton, a newcomer, injured her shoulder in practice last week and is doubtful to make the trip.