NEW YORK >> Hawaii coach Dana Takahara-Dias never has a problem finding teams to play her at home.
After all, what school wouldn’t love to go to the Islands over the holidays? Hawaii hosts four successful tournaments over the first 1 1/2 months of every year.
Yet Takahara-Dias wanted to give her own team a new experience, allowing the players a chance to bond. So she took the Rainbow Wahine 5,000 miles to New York for a two-game set with Army and Columbia. It’s the furthest East that Hawaii has ever traveled, easily surpassing the annual trip to Ruston, La., for a conference matchup with Louisiana Tech.
“We got our idea from our football team which played at West Point two years ago,” Takahara-Dias said. “We thought it was important for our athletes to experience a military campus and we were blown away, too, by the cadence and military life.”
While in New York City the Rainbow Wahine took in some of the city’s landmarks, heading to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.
“I think we always take it for granted that our student athletes are there for school and to play basketball,” Takahara-Dias said. “We’re going away with so much experience and knowledge of the history of our country and that’s important to us. It was a really nice road trip for us to experience something very different than we’re accustomed to in Hawaii.”
The coach herself played at Hawaii from 1984-88 and recalled fondly her trips to Anchorage and Tulsa — the furthest East she’s been.
“Those are things I remember as a player, it’s not the games you remember it’s the experiences you’ve garnered over the years,” she said. “I hope it’s a memorable experience for the players to take back.”
Hawaii (2-7) split its two games, losing to Army before beating Columbia 66-55 on Saturday night. It was the Rainbow Wahine’s first victory over a Division I team this season. They opened the year with a win over Hawaii-Hilo.
“We had always wanted to secretly come to the Big Apple. Columbia was a guest at our tournament last year,” Takahara-Dias said. “We had a player from New York who transferred from Harcum (College in Bryn Mawr, Pa.) and we wanted her family to see her play live.”
Senior forward Courtney Gaddis helped the Rainbow Wahine beat Columbia, scoring a career-high 14 points. She thoroughly enjoyed her time in New York, not even minding the 17 hours of travel it took to get there.
“I had seen it many times on TV, but it doesn’t compare to being here,” the Hawaii native said. “We saw the Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center and where they drop the ball on New Year’s Eve.”
The biggest thrill. Gaddis said. was something that most New Yorkers take for granted — riding the subway.
“It’s just so big and different than what we’re used to,” Gaddis said. “Fortunately we had someone who knew where they were going so we didn’t get lost.”
While navigating the underground wasn’t too much trouble for the team, dealing with the weather was a little more challenging. With a roster that features six Hawaiians and four Californians, experiencing temperatures in the 40s and 50s is almost unheard of.
While the players didn’t get a chance to see their first snowflakes, the temperature was in the upper 40s for most of the weekend — way below the balmy 80 degrees that it was in Honolulu.
“We had to go borrow jackets from our women’s soccer team because we didn’t have winter jackets to travel,” Takahara-Dias said laughing. “We understood there was a snowstorm here a few weeks ago. The rain didn’t come this time and we got lucky.”
Hawaii now has 15 days off before hosting its next tournament featuring Portland State, Denver, and UC Davis that starts on Dec. 18.
The Rainbow Wahine have already hosted No. 22 DePaul, then-No. 21 Virginia and 24th-ranked Texas this season.
“It’s good for our team to play great teams like that,” Takahara-Dias said. “More importantly it’s just a starting point where we need to be, where we need to get to emulate these great programs.”