October 1 – Coming out of a truncated season’s events, Laura Beeman entered Gym II on Thursday, spurred on by the prospect of a fresh start in her 10th year at the helm of the University’s women’s basketball program from Hawaii.
“What’s great is that this group has given me some enthusiasm for what to look forward to,” Beeman said ahead of the first official practice of the season. “Not just because it’s after COVID, but the personalities on this team are very different, they’re refreshing, they’re fun to be around.
“So when you bring in nine new players… when you have a team that makes the job fun, it makes that transition easier.”
After an abridged 9-8 season (which included five pandemic-related cancellations), the Rainbow Wahine began in earnest the process of integrating the skills of an 18-player roster into the squad system.
The sizable group of newcomers includes four Division I transfers to guards Ashley Thoms (Weber State) and McKenna Haire (Princeton), forward Kallin Spiller (Seattle) and center Maeve Donnelly (UMass).
They add experience to a roster that returns three starters to senior forward Amy Atwell and sophomore second-year guards Kelsie Imai and Olivia Davies, as well as guard Daejah Phillips, voted the Big West’s top sixth player in the last season.
Guard Nae Nae Calhoun, a 2020 Big West All-Freshman pick, appeared in just one game before suffering a season-ending knee injury ahead of the conference opener in January. She also returns to the backcourt two years after setting a UH freshman record with 104 assists.
“I worked hard every day to get to know Kelsie and everyone is there to push me,” Calhoun said. “Confidence, everything, I feel 100%.”
Atwell could relate to Calhoun’s journey, having spent her first year on the program (2016-17) as a red shirt as she recovered from a knee injury. She has decided to return for a sixth year after leading the Wahines with 12.6 points per game and 36 3 points and securing a berth on the All-Big West second team last season.
“It’s crazy how different it is, even physically,” said Atwell, comparing the atmosphere of last season to training on Thursday. “I feel so much better than last year just because we were able to get a full load of summer training and this pre-season track. Physically and mentally it’s very different this year.”
Although some of the younger players, such as Phillips (9.6 points per game) and Imai (team record 68 assists), enjoyed substantial playing time last season, Beeman is preparing them for their first. Complete overview of Division I basketball this season.
“COVID basketball is like playing in the NFL with a two-handed touch,” Beeman said. “They had minutes last year, but they didn’t have postseason and preseason minutes. They didn’t have minutes against teams that will be in Division I in which they will be this year.
“If anything, we had to slow down a bit and make sure everyone is on the same page, tweak some things for our new players.… I’m grateful for what they did (la last season) and I’m excited to see their growth as they have a lot to come. “
The growth process included one-on-one skill sessions leading up to the start of practice, which gave coaches insight into the chemistry the team has already formed.
“We have a long way to go, but there are some really fun combinations to watch already,” Beeman said. “So we are delighted as we get into the flesh of our practice to develop this even more.”
The Rainbow Wahines are set to face Hawaii Pacific University in an exhibition game on November 3 and open the regular season with road games in San Diego on November 9 and at USC two days later.