Star-Bulletin Sports

Thursday, February 14, 2002


Freshman Chelsea Wagner has averaged 13.5 points a game for the Wahine since entering the starting lineup.

Wagner fits in
at UH zoo

The freshman from Ohio
-- or Ellie the elephant --
has provided a spark
filling in for Atuaia

By Grace Wen

They're not animals on the court but there is an animal farm in the land of Rainbow Wahine basketball.

And Chelsea Wagner is Ellie the elephant.

"We're all a different animal," Wagner said. "We're always making fun of each other. Janka (Gabrielova) is a rabbit because of her teeth. Karena (Greeny) is a bear because of the way she dribbles. (Christen) Roper is a dog cause she has a hat that makes her look like a puppy dog."

Her nickname, she says, is because her ears stick out, and maybe they do a little. But that's just a sign of how well she listens to those around her.

"She's very coachable," Hawaii coach Vince Goo said. "She takes all the corrections from the coaches with a good attitude. And even when she wasn't playing, she was supporting all her teammates from the bench."

Wagner went from bench player to starter after April Atuaia tore her anterior cruciate ligament two weeks ago. In four starts, the freshman has averaged 13.5 points, 2.9 rebounds and two assists. She led the Rainbow Wahine in scoring twice with 18 points against Louisiana Tech and 17 against Texas-El Paso.

The 5-foot-10 guard has helped carry the Wahine and spark them in some of the ways that Atuaia did.

"Chelsea played very well on the road taking over four games for April," Goo said. "She comes in and even though she's a freshman, she plays with a lot of composure. There's no panic in her game.

"She just has a lot of confidence in herself, in her game. She's lacking in experience but shows a lot of maturity. That's where you get that composure on the basketball court. Her biggest improvement has been defense. She's defending really well for us."

Wagner knows she's improved a lot on defense. She admits she was a terrible defender when she first started playing man-to-man defense in college. It was completely new to her because she played zone as a high school All-American for Springfield High School in Oregon.

But the former state player of the year happily says that Goo no longer covers his eyes when she's on defense. And Goo said that she has exceeded the coaching staff's expectations.

He figured it would take some time for her to learn the ropes and adjust to college basketball, especially because she had a setback in the fall.

The problem started her junior year of high school when Wagner noticed she had trouble breathing. Her doctor found a nodule on her thyroid. She took medication and the doctor drained it, but she continued to have breathing problems.

Last fall, Wagner struggled in fall conditioning and finally told assistant coach Da Houl that she couldn't do the running. The coaches sent her to the doctor, who found a nodule on one side of her thyroid and three smalls ones on the other side.

Wagner underwent surgery in October to have her entire thyroid removed. She waited a week and a half after surgery before jumping into practice again. She had to battle her way back into shape.

"That was a pain," Wagner said. "I was so glad to get the surgery out of the way. I was out for a month and so I lost everything so I had to come back into conditioning and that was terrible. That was so hard and I couldn't breathe. I was just trying to keep up with everyone.

"From my surgery, I've developed ... it's somewhat like asthma but not really. I have to use an inhaler to help me breathe. But my throat, I still have a lot of problems breathing when I get sick. For the most part, my energy level is back to where it should be. It just takes awhile because the medication is like trial and error with the dosage."

It's no wonder that the freshman who moved thousands of miles away from a close-knit family had set just one goal for herself at the start of this season.

"My goal this year, you know because Karena and April, you can't replace those two players," Wagner said. "The way they play on the court, you can't replace them. By no means should I have started over them. No way.

"I just happened to get thrown in there because April was hurt. My goal this year was to be able to give them a break and not have it hurt us."

She hasn't, and she finds herself playing comfortably in the animal kingdom.

Wahine Basketball

When: Today, 7 p.m.
Where: Stan Sheriff Center
TV: Live, KFVE (Channel 5)
Radio: Live, 1420-AM
Tickets: All seats general admission. $7 adults, $6 seniors, $4 for children (age 4-17) and UH students.
Parking: $3

Probable starters

HAWAII (16-5, 9-3)

Ht. Pts. Avg. Reb.
G Janka Gabrielova (Sr.) 5-6 11.4 3.2 4.5
G Chelsea Wagner (Fr.) 5-10 6.7 2.4 1.0
F Natasja Allen (Jr.) 6-2 12.1 5.6 1.0
F Karena Greeny (Sr.) 5-11 9.1 6.1 1.9
C Christen Roper (Jr.) 6-5 10.4 7.7 0.7

TULSA (15-8, 10-3)

Ht. Pts. Avg. Reb.
G LeAnn Upshaw (Fr.) 5-7 2.9 2.2 1.6
G Candice Brewer (So.) 5-8 8.3 4.3 3.0
F Carla Morrow (Sr.) 6-0 12.5 6.6 3.0
F Leela Farr (Sr.) 5-11 13.3 6.3 1.7
C Alyssa Shriver (Jr.) 6-4 10.6 5.2 0.9

Notes: The Rainbow Wahine and Golden Hurricane have played eight times, with UH holding a 7-1 edge. ... Earlier this year, Hawaii defeated Tulsa on the road 65-51, after building a 19-point lead at the half. ... Tulsa's Leela Farr was the Western Athletic Conference Player of the Week for Feb. 4-10 after leading the Golden Hurricane to victories over Boise State and Texas-El Paso. ... The Golden Hurricane are riding a five-game winning streak and are 7-2 in road games. ... Alyssa Shriver set the WAC record for blocked shots in a game with 14 against Louisiana Tech. ... Hawaii and Tulsa have identical shooting percentages from the field at 42.5 percent.

UH Athletics

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