Nique Pacheco could be spending her time in the sunshine and playing basketball in Thousand Oaks, Calif., where Cal Lutheran is located. Instead, the allure of the University of Mount Olive attracted her to North Carolina, which will be her next hoops home.
The 2020 Kamehameha graduate had her season at Edmonds College, in Lynnwood, Wash., canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. She took online classes from home at the West Coast school, and her coaches there helped her find Mount Olive.
If the school name sounds familiar, that’s because Ryan Thomas, a 2012 Kamehameha grade and All-BIIF libero played volleyball for the Trojans, a Division II school that competes in the Conference Carolinas. Sounds weird but that’s the official name.
Why would a Hilo local girl, raised in paradise, not choose a place with similar weather and much closer to home?
Well, for the 5-foot-2 point guard, who will have four years of eligibility, it was love at first sight.
She just returned from a campus visit with her dad, Dominic Pacheco, her coach at Kamehameha.
“I loved it. There’s a lot of green and trees. It’s a small town,” she said. “Within walking distance, there are food places, stores. It’s very nice.
“I met the coach and some of the players. They showed me around other towns, and I got to go to class with some players.”
The Trojans finished the shortened season with a 7-7 record. Last year, in the 2019-20 season, Mount Olive went 18-9 and lost to Limestone, from South Carolina, in the conference quarterfinals, 88-78.
There are no Hawaii players on the roster, but at least there’s stability. Wendy Lee became the coach in 2000 after two years as an assistant and piloted the Trojans to the conference semifinals in 2018-19, when they lost to No. 1 seed Emmanuel, from Georgia, 77-64.
For North Carolina’s version of fun, Nique even went to the beach. It’s not like Hawaii, of course.
“There are beaches all along the coast,” she said. “The water was freezing. The players were telling me in the summer the water gets warmer. We had a seafood dinner in Wilmington. Most of the major places are 1 hour and 30 minutes away.”
There are no places that serve spam musubi or loco mocos, but she can check with Thomas on that. Nique may have to ask her dad to mail her spam and rice. He’s happy she’s found a home.
“I’m just proud of her. She really likes the coaches and players, and was really happy about the high academic standard at the school,” he said. “The coaches really reached out to her, and she’s the only guard they recruited. I got to watch her practice with the team, and they have some really good talent.”
Mount Olive’s point guard is 5-2 junior Azariah Fields, so Nique, who will head up to Mount Olive in August, won’t have to wait long to get on the court.
She’s been working out and going to practice with coaches Alika Smith and Randy Apele. So her basketball fundamentals are still sharp as always.
Asked about her shot, Nique gave a typical answer.
“It’s still there,” she said.