Their big gun has been silenced, at least temporarily, so the Rainbow Wahine will slip quietly into the Western Athletic Conference indoor track and field championships tomorrow in Nampa, Idaho, and try to slip out Saturday with a top-five finish. That would also make Hawaii’s Careena Onosai and Anika Borden, two of the team’s seven seniors, very happy.
Amber Kaufman, the reigning NCAA high jump champion, would be the eighth senior on this young squad of nearly 40. But Kaufman won’t compete this year after suffering injuries in a serious car accident in October.
The volleyball/track All-American had to drop out last fall. She is back in school now and planned to compete in the outdoor season, but shoulder surgery a few weeks ago prevented it.
UH will petition for a sixth year for Kaufman this summer. That leaves the WAC without its high jump champion from the last five championships — two indoors and three outdoors.
UH junior Sarah Saddleton could fill the void. She took silver the past two years and is among three WAC jumpers to clear 5 feet 8 this season. Wahine multi-event competitor Samantha Balentine has cleared 5-7, but there is no third high jumper in an event the Wahine have swept the last four years.
Senior Ashley Aitken could medal in distance events and Madara Apine is ranked second in the triple jump, which is where she finished a year ago. Beyond that, the Wahine will be scrambling for points in their next-to-last WAC season.
Onosai and Borden, along with throwers Emma MacCorquodale, from Canada, and TeRina Keenan, from New Zealand, are among the brightest hopes. The two local seniors are coming off personal bests. Onosai just threw the shot 42-11 and Borden went 54-1 in the (20 pound) weight throw.
A year ago, Borden took fourth at WAC indoors, helping UH to its second fifth-place finish in as many years. Onosai was eighth indoors and outdoors. She also throws discus in the outdoor season. Borden throws hammer.
Borden, who graduated from Pearl City in 2006, has come full circle in the circle. She did the discus/shot double in high school and also paddled. She wasn’t planning to pursue track in college, but changed her mind as a sophomore and UH associate coach Garrett Collier saw her talent and pointed her to weight throw and hammer.
"When she first came out she had to do a lot of work on her own," Collier says. "To the point where she’d come out and just do drills all day. But she’s got an incredible work ethic. She just stuck to it and it has paid off."
Borden’s commitment has been absolute. She has shed almost 100 pounds and gained strength during her career, and earned Academic All-WAC honors each year. Her technique is now refined and her confidence has grown immensely.
"It’s definitely changed me," says Borden, who will graduate in Hawaiian studies in May. "It helped me with a lot of stuff, especially since in high school I wasn’t as sure of myself. It’s helped me a lot to know what I can do. I can do more than I thought I could. I never thought I could do this."
Onosai will also graduate in May, in Family Resources, which seems appropriate since her family is such a big part of the community. Father Joe Onosai, a pastor by profession, played football at UH and was Word of Life Academy’s athletic director. Careena, a 2006 Word of Life graduate, was all-state in basketball and volleyball in high school, while capturing three state championships in discus and shot.
Her dream was to play volleyball for UH, but scholarship complications and a great offer from UCLA sent her to Los Angeles, until the coach that recruited her left. She came back for track and is now team captain.
Onosai is the shy Borden’s opposite. Extremely outgoing — "You can always go to her to talk about anything," Borden says — she at first struggled with track’s individuality and "focusing on herself," Collier said. She qualified for regionals in discus as a sophomore, but Collier believes she was a better thrower last year. This year, a slight fix a few weeks ago has Onosai and Collier extremely optimistic.
"She doesn’t freak out when things go wrong now, she just focuses, which is why she’s been so successful this year," Collier says. "Her technique is a lot better, it’s grown by leaps and bounds. Obviously, that’s from her work ethic and focus."
Onosai wishes she had figured out the dynamics of college sports’ year-round demands earlier, but that is her only regret.
"For me, it has been character building," she says. "You only get one chance to be a Division I athlete. It’s not going to happen again."
Both Borden and Onosai have a shot at regional qualifying indoors and during the outdoor season. But even if they finish at home 11 weeks from now when Hawaii hosts the WAC outdoors, their presence will have made an impact on a program that knows it could be better if it could get more athletes to stay home.
"These two have really taken ownership of it all, understood it a little bit better … ," Collier says. "What we want them to accomplish now is to throw more for themselves. Most local kids seem to want to please everyone. We want them not to be selfish, but just go after it for themselves, to make a name for themselves."