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Women’s basketball: Vulcans raring to go despite setbacks

  • Allie Navarette averaged 16.7 points and 7.9 rebounds a game during her freshman campaign to earn honorable mention all-conference honors.

Every team enters the season with a certain amount of unknowns, but for UH-Hilo women’s basketball coach David Kaneshiro, this has to be getting old.

Kaneshiro was just being honest when he said at the end of an interview earlier in the week, “Sorry, I’ll have more definite answers on Sunday.”

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Here is what the Vulcans do know: They’ll will suit up at least eight players in Friday night’s season-opener against Multnomah at Hilo Civic.

That number will not include junior Kim Schmelz, one of the program’s most accomplished players, nor Mikayla Tablit, one of its most accomplished recruits, as both nurse knee injuries

Schmelz, a junior, still hadn’t returned to practice, while Tablit, a four-time state champion at Konawaena, is out indefinitely.

Kaneshiro sounded like Tablit’s injury was a long-term deal when he said, “She is very determined to make it back stronger than ever,” in a school release.

The Vuls, eight strong, played UH-Manoa in an exhibition at the start of the month, and even if the craftsmanship was a bit off, he was encouraged by the Vuls’ spirit and grit.

But a week later, “the effort and toughness didn’t show up,” Kaneshiro said. “Probably like most coaches, who knows?

“We’ve shown that we’re capable in terms of playing with effort and toughness and playing with technique, but it’s a whole different thing to do it consistently.

“Some days it’s most of the time, some days it’s half the time, some days it’s not enough.”

The list of known quantities for the Vuls certainly includes sophomore Allie Navarette.

Her freshman season will be the standard by which all others are judged here after the 6-foot post player averaged 16.7 points and 7.9 rebounds a game to earn honorable mention all-conference honors.

“I think I surprised people, I think I surprised my own teammate, I think I surprised myself,” said Navarette, who shot 84.2 percent from the free throw line (second best in the PacWest), while also leading the team in steals (26) and blocked shots (23).

“As the games wore on (last season), (teams) were more prepared for me and ready,” she said. “I’ve been working on counter moves to my moves last year. When they take that away, I’ll definitely have other stuff.”

The Vulcans’ next two leading returning scorers are guards Alyssa Movchan (6.8 points) and Sara Shimizu (6.5), so Navarette likely will have to carry more than her share of the offensive load again this season while playing against defenses that are primed to stop her once she gets off the team bus.

“Every night (she) has to be ready for the best opposing defender at that position,” Kaneshiro said. “Defenses are going to be geared to slow her down.”

A self-confessed basketball junkie, the slender Navarette studies her assignments, and it was clear from the start last season that the Southern California native is comfortable playing inside against bigger players.

“I definitely watch a lot of game tape, just trying to scout the other team,” she said. “Just to see if the post I’m up against, if they rely on size or are big. I’m definitely not big and strong, so I rely on quickness or just reading it. I like to see what they like to do.”

She calls this year’s team more connected than last year, and hopefully Patience Taylor and Amber Vaughn are healthy enough to make it a connected 10. Both offer experience.

Taylor, a 6-o senior who started 17 times last season (4.2 points, 3.5 rebounds), has been cleared to play and is working her way back into game shape, while Vaughn, a senior guard and Hilo High grad, started five games last season before suffering a season-ending injury which she is still working back from.

“Patience had a great fall conditioning,” Kaneshiro said, “I could just see that her mindset and attitude were excellent.”

Kaneshiro tabbed Malia Lee, a 5-10 sophomore forward, as one of the team’s most improved returning players, and of the four new faces to the program, two are familiar ones to local basketball fans: Mandi Kawaha and Chyann Gabriel.

Kawaha, a freshman guard and former Hilo Viking, has been thrown into the fire so far in the preseason, starting against the Wahine, and has proven capable, according to last season’s stud freshman.

“She’s looking really good and working really hard in practice,” Navarette said. “I think as soon as she gets some game experience, I am really excited to see what she is going to be able to do.”

Gabriel is a 2015 Kamehameha-Hawaii graduate who Kaneshiro remembers working with at summer camps. With one season under her belt playing at community college, the 5-7 junior eventually contacted Kaneshiro about coming aboard.

Freshman Maddie Beck is a guard but has good length at 5-11.

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Despite finishing 7-16 last season and with its injury situation unsettled, Navarette said she’s noticed a winning spirit in practice.

“I think it’s a good thing,” Navarette said. “I like seeing that’s how they think we’re going to do. I want to be seen as not a threat, because we have a lot to prove. We’re going to use that as fuel to the fire.”