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CHALLENGE ACCEPTED – With injuries hitting the Rainbow Wahine hoops team, guard Ashley Thoms is stepping up to fill the void.

By Lance Tominaga

While an estimated 113 million people watched Super Bowl LVII, University of Hawaii guard Ashley Thoms was part of a more exclusive viewing audience.

“Oh, it was really cool!” she says, smiling. Yes, Thoms was actually at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, for Super Sunday. That’s one of the perks of having a grandfather who played for a Super Bowl championship team.

Now Thoms and her Rainbow Wahine teammates are hoping for another “super” weekend. Hawaii hosts Big West Conference leader Long Beach State this Saturday and then CSU Bakersfield on Presidents Day. 

The defending Big West champions, the Rainbow Wahine are currently 9-5 in league play (11-12 overall) and are in fourth place – three games behind The Beach. This is despite losing three key players to injuries: Olivia Davies, Jacque David and Jovi Lefotu. All three players are out for the remainder of the season.

Instead of folding their tents, however, head coach Laura Beeman and her team have banded together with renewed purpose. The Rainbow Wahine have won three straight games.

“I think we have a lot of momentum right now,” says Thoms. “With all the injuries, we have something bigger to play for. We’re all motivated to play for [our teammates] who are not playing right now. For us to come together during this time of adversity, to win three in a row, it’s a big momentum shift for our team.”

Thoms, a redshirt junior from Lafayette, California, is doing her part. The rash of injuries has resulted in increased minutes and an expanded role for her in the team’s rotation. It’s a role she is fully embracing. 

“Yeah, for sure,” she says. “I feel it’s a big ask of me, but it’s a challenge that I’m willing to take. And with my teammates’ help, it’s been a smooth transition.”

In Hawaii’s recent road game at UC San Diego, Thoms buried three three-pointers in the second half, sparking the Rainbow Wahine’s 61-58 win over the Tritons. Her nine points, six rebounds and three assists in that contest were all season highs.

“I’ve kind of been struggling with my shot,” says Thoms. “I’ve been working on it. I knew I had to step into a bigger role, and it was nice to see all the work pay off.”

With a knack for drawing offensive fouls and getting key steals, Thoms is often on the court in crunch-time situations. She also unofficially leads her team in floor burns.

“I do take a lot of pride in my defense,” says Thoms. “Also, my Dad played football at Fresno State and my Grandpa played for the Oakland Raiders. They were my coaches growing up, so I think that kind of carried over. I have that football mentality!”

[Note: Art Thoms played for the Oakland Raiders for eight seasons and was part of the franchise’s 1976 Super Bowl championship team. The defensive tackle played alongside the likes of John Matuszak, Ted Hendricks, Otis Sistrunk and Jack Tatum.]

With six games remaining in the regular season, Thoms says the Rainbow Wahine are looking to finish strong heading into the Big West Tournament.

“There’s just been so many obstacles for us this season,” she says. “But these last three games are showing us where we are and what we can be, and that’s really exciting to see. I think we can make a really good run.”