Depth was an elusive luxury in Dana Takahara-Dias’ first year leading the Hawaii women’s basketball team.
Various issues, injuries chief among them, left Takahara-Dias with limited options for most of a 10-20 debut season.
She’ll have far more freedom in her substitution patterns when the Rainbow Wahine open Year 2 of her tenure today against Cal State Northridge at the Stan Sheriff Center.
"I had forgotten what it felt like to look down the bench and see people in uniforms other than coaching staff," Takahara-Dias said.
Takahara-Dias will have ample opportunity to mix and match combinations with six games over the next 10 days, starting with today’s 5 p.m. game against the Matadors in the Jack in the Box Rainbow Wahine Classic.
The round-robin tournament continues tomorrow with UH facing Eastern Michigan at 3 p.m. UH closes the weekend against Oregon State on Sunday at 5 p.m.
"The exhibition games were getting all the jitters out," senior guard Megan Tinnin said, referencing UH’s commanding wins over Chaminade and BYU-Hawaii. "But it’s all real now."
The Wahine struggled with consistency last season, and placed seventh in the preseason WAC coaches poll and eighth in the media poll.
JACK IN THE BOX RAINBOW WAHINE CLASSIC
» WHEN: Today through Sunday
But increased numbers generated more intense competition for playing time, giving Takahara-Dias greater comfort in going deeper into the roster.
"One of the strengths of our team is the depth of our bench and having the confidence to put many people in to get the job done," she said.
Most notably, the return of Tinnin and freshman Shawna-Lei Kuehu from redshirt years bolsters a starting lineup with three starters back, including senior point guard and leading scorer Keisha Kanekoa.
"The first year was a learning experience getting used to the system, what Coach Dana’s philosophy is," Kanekoa said. "Now we have five seniors who already have experience and already know what it’s like playing in the WAC, the competition, how we need to get prepared. I think that makes a big difference. There’s no excuses now."
The following is a look at the Rainbow Wahine heading into the new season:
Keisha Kanekoa, 5-6, Sr.; Mai Ayabe, 5-4, Sr.
Outlook: Four years after Kanekoa first arrived on campus as a potential-laden signee out of Honokaa, she enters her final season approaching membership in the program’s 1,000-point club and could become just the sixth player to reach 300 career assists. She started all 30 games last season and averaged 32.2 minutes while leading the team with 11.2 points per game. Her command of the offense will be critical for the Wahine to cut down on last year’s average of 20.5 turnovers per game.
Ayabe’s return from a season-ending knee injury could lighten Kanekoa’s minutes and allow her to slide to shooting guard at times.
Takahara-Dias on Kanekoa: "Keisha had to do many things for us last year. Hopefully this year she gets a lot of help from her teammates to take some pressure off of her."
Megan Tinnin, 5-10, Sr.; Shawna-Lei Kuehu, 5-10, Fr.; Courtney Gaddis, 5-11, Jr.; Sydney Haydel, 5-8 Fr.
Outlook: Tinnin redshirted last season after hitting a school-record 55 3-pointers as a junior and is 13 away from becoming UH’s career leader. She will also play both shooting guard and small forward and has been designated as the team’s defensive captain.
"She’s a great shooter, but she’s also a wonderful rebounder. She’s very strong at 5-10, so she doesn’t just provide an offensive threat," Takahara-Dias said.
Kuehu was off to a strong start in her first five college games before a torn ACL ended her season. She was granted a medical hardship and is back for a second shot at a freshman year. She led the Wahine in scoring (12.6 points per game) rebounding (6.6 per game) and blocked shots (eight) when she suffered the injury.
Haydel played power forward in high school but will provide depth on the wings. Gaddis saw limited action last year and adds height to the perimeter.
Kuehu on chemistry: "We’re getting to a point where we’re trusting each other unconditionally on the court, trusting in our coaches, and it’s just a matter of time before it clicks a hundred percent."
Allie Patterson, 6-1, Sr.; Breanna Arbuckle, 6-0, Jr; Julita Bungaite, 6-2, Sr.; Kamilah Jackson, 5-11, Fr.; Rebecca Dew, 6-4, Jr.; Carlotta Mingo, 6-1, Jr.; Katie Wilson, 6-3, Jr.
Outlook: The Wahine plan to start a relatively small front line with Patterson and Arbuckle. But Patterson’s physical nature allows her to hold her ground in the paint. Arbuckle started all 30 games last season and led the regulars with 6.2 rebounds per game and blocked 41 shots.
Jackson was a breakout performer in UH’s exhibition games with 15 points against Chaminade and 11 points and 11 rebounds against BYU-Hawaii.
"She’s small at 5-11, but she plays big," Takahara-Dias said. "She’s an incredible rebounder because of her sense of timing. She’s exceeded our expectations."
Dew gives the Wahine the flexibility to go with a bigger lineup. Bungaite’s perimeter shooting (she finished second on the team with 23 3-pointers last year) can pull opposing post players away from the basket.
Mingo was recruited from junior college to provide rebounding help. Wilson is out due to a shoulder injury.
Takahara-Dias on Arbuckle: "She’s just got this phenomenal leaping ability and athleticism, so she can play many positions and she’s expanded her game from last year just based upon her confidence level."