Finally, games go on during pandemic: Vuls ready for action

  • UHH photo Jalen Thompson and the Vulcans open the season Saturday.

Let the games begin.

The PacWest unveiled its preseason men’s and women’s basketball polls Thursday, which only can mean one thing.

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Actual. College. Competition. Is. Coming. To. Hilo.

The Vulcans’ squads didn’t receive much respect from the conference’s coaches – the men ranked eighth, the women ninth and neither placed a player on the all-league team – as they gear up to host Hawaii Pacific on Saturday at UHH gym. Of course, who’s ranked where doesn’t matter as much this season since the PacWest elected to schedule in pods, pitting UHH against HPU and Chaminade six times apiece.

Kaniela Aiona makes his regular-season debut for UHH at 4:30 p.m. against the Sharks, who were ranked ninth. No fans – only “essential personnel” – will be allowed at home games because of county protocols regarding the pandemic, though contests will be streamed at hiloathletics.com.

Count Aiona in the group that’s thankful UHH is able to play at all.

“It will be bittersweet to have a home opener without the Vulcan faithful in attendance,” he said in a school release. “I’m hoping everyone will take advantage of the livestream. Creating this opportunity to return to play is a total team effort. So much credit goes to Chancellor Bonnie Irwin, AD Pat Guillen, associate AD Kula Oda, (athletic trainer) Kensei Gibbs, our COVID testing partners at Premier Medical and countless others who are investing OVERSET FOLLOWS:their energy into this season.”

The Vulcans and Sharks each were defeated by Hawaii in exhibition games in December. UHH lost 89-66, getting 18 points, 10 rebounds and three steals from freshman Aniwaniwa Tait-Jones. HPU, led by David Rowlands’ 12 points, fell 83-50.

“HPU has a talented group that competes hard,” Aiona said. “They have length, depth and dynamic players at each position. These will be two hardfought games.”

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The first UHH athletic competition since March will come at 1:30 p.m. Saturday when the women host the powerhouse Sharks, who the coaches expect to claim their fourth consecutive league championship and are ranked No. 1 in the West. Guard Amy Baum is the preseason player of the year, and guards Ally Bates and Alysha Marcucci also have spots on the seven-player first-team.

“They are an excellent team,” UHH coach David Kaneshiro said in a release. “Talented players, well coached, and very good at both ends of the floor. With the year that they had last year and with their win over Manoa in December, they’ve proven they deserve the rankings and accolades they’ve received. Our players are excited to play and looking forward to the challenge of competing against them.”

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