We’re under 70 days till the start of the University of Hawaii 2020-21 sports season. While COVID-19 remains the unwanted house guest who doesn’t know when to leave, we’re going to assume (and cross our fingers) that every UH athletic program will be able to start their season as scheduled. Even without the coronavirus, however, there are questions that every Rainbow Warrior and Rainbow Wahine program are facing. Here are a few:
1. IS CHEVAN CORDEIRO THE REAL DEAL? With Cole McDonald now in the NFL, the starting QB reins are firmly in the hands of redshirt sophomore Chevan Cordeiro. The Saint Louis alum has shown flashes of brilliance as McDonald’s backup, but can he sustain that level of play over a full season? The answer to this question may determine whether the team contends for another Mountain West division title.
2. CAN THE DEFENSE DOMINATE? During Nick Rolovich’s four-season tenure in Hawaii, UH has surrendered an average of 31.9, 35.1, 33.9 and 37.3 points per game. New head coach Todd Graham aims to change that, saying, “Defensively is where the biggest change is going to come.” He also stated that he would like to see a return to the attack-style defense that Hawaii had during the Niko and Al Noga years. Amen to that.
1. WHO WILL SET THE TABLE? The Rainbow Wahine have talented hitters returning in 2020, including sophomore Hanna Hellvig and senior Jolie Rasmussen. But with both Norene Iosia and Bailey Choy having graduated, who will get them the ball? That responsibility may fall on the shoulders of incoming freshman Kate Lang, a 5-10 setter who led her Texas club team to two national titles. Lang was ranked No. 59 on the Seniors Aces list for prep volleyball seniors.
2. CAN JOLIE STAY HEALTHY? Rasmussen has battled injuries throughout her collegiate career. At Oregon, an injury forced her take a medical redshirt year. Last season, after transferring to UH, an ankle injury sidelined her for 20 matches. If she is able to stay injury-free, Rasmussen’s talent, experience and leadership will be invaluable to a team that lost five players from 2019.
1. CAN THE RAINBOW WAHINE TAKE THE NEXT STEP? Michele Nagamine’s Rainbow Wahine reached their goal of making their first-ever Big West Tournament appearance in 2019. The team has some pieces to take another step forward, including a pair of First-Team All-Big West selections: junior forward Kayla Ryan and sophomore midfielder Eliza Ammendolia.
2. WHO WILL REPLACE ALEXIS MATA? Mata was as steady as she was dominant. Last season’s Big West Goalkeeper of the Year (5 shutouts, a league-leading 103 saves) started 52 straight games before completing her Rainbow Wahine career. Lauren Marquez returns after joining the program as a freshman in 2018, but she has yet to see any action on the field. Also, Kyanah Blas out of Konawaena High School was signed to the program last November.
1. WILL THE RAINBOW WARRIORS PASS THEIR CHEMISTRY TEST? Unexpectedly, Hawaii has had to restock their roster since the end of the season. This year’s team will feature seven new faces, and that’s not including promising wing player Junior Madut, who sat out last season as a redshirt. From all indications, this team will be quicker and more athletic, but will they be able to jell as a team?
2. CAN JOVON MCCLANAHAN RUN THE SHOW? Incoming sophomore point guard JoVon McClanahan can score – he averaged 23.5 points per game last season at Sheridan College in Wyoming – but will he be able to run the offense? It would be unfair to expect him to master the offense right away. Even Drew Buggs needed time to do that. With McClanahan on board, expect the coaches to employ a more uptempo game to better suit his skill set.
1. WHO WILL BE THE NEXT JULISSA TAGO? Team MVP Tago was “all-everything” for the Rainbow Wahine last season, leading the team in scoring and finishing in the Top 15 in seven different categories in Big West play. Tago has since graduated, however, and someone needs to step into a lead role for 2020-21. That person could be senior-to-be Jadynn Alexander. She’s already the team’s top defender, but she’s proved she can score (19 points vs UC Irvine).
2. HOW GOOD IS NAE NAE CALHOUN? The 5-5 point guard made an immediate impact as a true freshman last season, starting all 29 contests and posting per-game averages of 5.6 points, 3.6 rebounds and 3.6 assists. She earned a spot on the Big West All-Freshmen Team. Her season (and career) highs include 14 points at Washington and 10 assists at UC Irvine.
1. FROM FAB FRESHMEN TO SUPER SOPHS? It was clear that the Rainbow Wahine softball team was going through a transition season in 2020, with young players emerging as frontline contributors. Catcher/2B Ka‘ena Keliinoi and utility player Maya Nakamura started all 24 games for UH this past season, and fellow freshman Rachel Sabourin, who started 10 games, was named Big West Freshman of the Week on Feb. 24. Can the young players continue to develop? If so, expect Hawaii fans can expect more on-field success in 2021.
2. WILL CALLEE HEEN AND CHEEKS RAMOS RETURN? In late March, after the NCAA announced that it will allow senior student-athletes in the spring sports to seek an additional year of eligibility due, Senior standout Callee Heen told KHON2 that she was “open” to the idea of coming back for one more season. Heen and Angelique “Cheeks” Ramos were the team’s only two seniors – and their best players. (UPDATE: Head Coach Bob Coolen just confirmed that both Heen and Ramos WILL return next season. That’s a big boost for the Rainbow Wahine!)
1. CAN THE ‘BOWS REVIVE THEIR MOMENTUM? Mike Trapasso’s Rainbow Warriors were off to a promising start to the season before the pandemic reared its ugly head two weeks before the start of conference play. Hawaii was 11-6 and had some impressive victories , including a 3-1 road win over defending national champion Vanderbilt and a series win over Oregon. Whether that would have carried over into the Big West, we’ll never know, but the program was definitely trending upward.
2. WHICH NEWCOMERS WILL STEP UP? The program’s recruiting has stepped up in recent years, and last November’s class of signees was no different. UH landed 12 recruits, including 6-8 pitcher D.J. Carpenter and shortstop Kenji Suzuki – players that Trapasso has deemed “high-profile” talents. Suzuki actually committed to perennial baseball power Clemson before signing with the Rainbows.
1. WHO CAN STOP HAWAII? Rainbow Warrior volleyball BC (Before Coronavirus) sure looked poised for another deep run in the NCAA Tournament. And now that we know that All-Americans Rado Parapunov, Patrick Gasman and Colton Cowell will be returning in 2021, this team looks destined win the program’s first national championship. (Well, Second unofficially, but you know…) Barring a rash of injuries, what could possibly stop them?
2. IS THERE TOO MUCH TALENT? The return of Parapurov, Gasman and Cowell was an unexpected bonus for an already stacked Hawaii team. Then you add in a talented class of recruits – including outside hitters Spyros Chakas and Makua Marumoto and setters Austin Buchanan and Jack Walmer – and the roster becomes an embarrassment of riches. But we’ve seen talent-rich teams falter in the past. Will everyone be satisfied with their roles? Will egos inevitably clash? We’ll just have to wait and see.
# # #