Barack Obama still had more than 16 months remaining in his presidency when Kim Schmelz arrived at UH-Hilo as a freshman in 2015. It wasn’t long before the sharpshooter’s soft jumpers started reigning from the sky.
Schmelz would tally 15 double-digit scoring efforts to help the women’s basketball team contend for the playoffs, so she clearly wasn’t thinking about an extended college plan.
Her sophomore season was one of the most productive in school history, and just when it seemed like everything was coming too easy … it turned out it was.
Thanks to an ACL tear, her past three years have included course studies in perseverance and patience. Feeling at her best since the injury, Schmelz looks to resume her high-scoring ways as a statistical oddity: She’s the first six-year player in coach David Kaneshiro’s tenure.
“It’s been a journey, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world,” Schmelz said. “It’s been a blessing being here, and I’m grateful for the experience and that my coaches and teammates allowed me to come back.”
She still wears a right knee brace as more of a mental aid. After two lost seasons to rehab, the 5-foot-8 guard/wing showed glimpses of her former self last season (10.6 points per game), returning as the team’s leading scorer. Not that she’s paying attention, but Schmelz is third on the all-time UHH scoring list, just 105 points behind Sheila Azevedo (978 points) for second place. Becoming the second player in program history to surpass 1,000 career points is a realistic goal in a 12-game schedule, but Schmelz would need a full season to duplicate her sophomore production and catch Allie Navarette (1,398).
Does she ever worry about never being able to regain her form?
“That was on my mind at first, that is your biggest concern,” she said. “Will I be the same player? Sometimes it’s still on my mind, but I try not to think about it.
“Last season, I didn’t feel I was at the level I used to be at, but I just feel like everyday I was getting back to where I was. I feel like I’ve still been improving, and it’s the best I felt ever since.”
In coach David Kaneshiro’s lineup of “interchangeable parts,” senior Sara Shimizu and sophomore Jenna Waki – each an alum of CK McClatchy High in Sacramento, Calif. – will play similar roles to that of Schmelz. Once the Vulcans get into their half-court offense, they’ll be counted on to make plays and good decisions when the defense takes away scoring opportunities.
Waki, 5-6, started 23 games as freshman, and her eight-point game in an exhibition loss to Hawaii in December was her second-highest. The steady Shimizu, 5-2, is set to become a four-year starter and has never missed a game while averaging between 6.5 and 5 points a contest. Ranking in the top eight all-time in 3-pointers (71), assists (146) and steals (73), Kaneshiro is hopeful she’ll take the next step.
“Her mental side and focus have been more consistent this year,” he said, “and I think it’s shown in her play. We the coaches can see an improvement.”
Kenedi Walters, a 5-9 transfer, played two minutes against UH-Manoa Jessica Goodluck, who played in 19 games last season as a transfer, opted out this season because of the virus.