“It Takes A Village”; Rainbow Wahine Celebrate Championship Run with Supporters in Banquet
BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED APR 8, 2023
MANOA — “It takes a village to make things like [back-to-back titles] happen,” University of Hawai’i women’s basketball coach Laura Beeman said Friday evening to a room filled with supporters during the team’s end of year banquet.
“You are our village,” Beeman continued as she thanked the room.
It was a night that was filled with smiles, tears, and laughter, signaling the official close of the 2022-23 college basketball season for the Hawai’i Rainbow Wahine.
The night began with mingling between fans, boosters, players, coaches, and many others while food was being prepared at the nice Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai’i in the Generations Ballroom.
As attendees found their seats at the various tables throughout the room, the festivities began. Each table was released to go fill plates and final wagers for the silent auctions going on in the back of the room were collected.
Once everyone had returned to their seats, Beeman addressed the crowd with her opening remarks. Though she was able to keep it together, the emotions started to run rampant early.
After Coach’s opening remarks, Hawai’i athletic director David Matlin addressed the crowd for his last women’s basketball banquet before moving on from his longtime position. Attendees were treated to a highlight tape from UH’s exhilarating comeback win over UC Santa Barbara in the Big West championship game and a “thank you” video from the team to supporters.
Following the videos, the Rainbow Wahine coaching and support staff began distributing the awards that were voted on by the members of the team for their contributions throughout the season. The awards given out were:
- All-Conference Selection Certificates
- Academic Award
- Most Improved Player Award
- Defensive Player of the Year Award
- Rookie of the Year Award
- “Ah Chew Goo” Most Valuable Team Player Award
Three Rainbow Wahine were recognized as Big West selections, with a pair of honorable mentions and an All-Big West First Team pick.
Graduate forward Kallin Spiller and sophomore guard Daejah Phillips both received honorable mention selections from the conference. Sophomore lead guard Lily Wahinekapu was the lone 1st-teamer for the Rainbow Wahine. The transfer from Cal State Fullerton returned home to play for Hawai’i alongside her little sister, freshman guard Jovi Lefotu.
Freshman Imani Perez was also named to the all-freshman team.
Academic Achievement Award
Not only were these ‘Bows resilient and good, but it was a group of brainiacs. The team finished with a 3.32 GPA as a unit.
The team was led by Hallie Birdsong, the sophomore guard who has improved her GPA every semester since joining the squad. Birdsong’s accomplishment is even more impressive when reminded that the ‘Bows roster included a pair of Ivy League graduates in Spiller and McKenna Haire.
Birdsong also received the High Achievement Alston Academic Award scholarship for her work going above and beyond in the classroom while balancing being a college athlete with academics.
Most Improved Player Award
With such a young roster, this award could have gone to many different players on the team.
While many were deserving, it was hard to argue Meilani McBee being anything but the right choice.
The sophomore guard hit multiple big shots for the ‘Bows during their run to their second straight Big West championship, perhaps none bigger than in overtime of the Big West quarterfinals when she drilled a game-tying 3-pointer from the corner to force double-overtime.
Defensive Player of the Year Award
On a team that consistently held opponents below their scoring average and held national champion LSU to their lowest point output of the NCAA tournament, picking a player could be tough.
For the second consecutive year, Ashley Thoms was recognized as the Defensive Player of the Year for the Rainbow Wahine.
“Thommy,” as she is affectionately called by staff and teammates alike, notably forced a jump ball late in the Big West championship game to earn a much-needed extra possession for the ‘Bows to help complete the 15-point comeback.
Rookie of the Year Award
There were a few freshmen that went down over the course of the season for UH, but 6-foot-4 freshman forward Imani Perez helped buoy her fellow Class of 2022 recruits to making an impact late in the season still.
Perez was named the Rookie of the Year, continuing a night of recognition for the budding star.
The forward came into her own as the season progressed and began challenging for Big West Freshman of the Year consideration. Her growth was on display in her battles with LSU’s Angel Reese in the NCAA Tournament’s first round.
“Ah Chew Goo” Most Valuable Team Player Award
As head coach Laura Beeman explained, the team votes on the end of season awards that are given out and that the team does not give an award to the best player but rather who goes above and beyond their role.
While it was a difficult decision for the team, Kallin Spiller was recognized once more for her contributions in her time with Hawai’i. Her leadership went a long way in building the championship foundation for the ‘Bows, along with fellow graduate transfer McKenna Haire.
Haire also received immense consideration for the award.
A fan favorite, each player helped end the night by speaking about one another. Emotions began to run high once again, as teammates who had morphed into family had to come to grips with the soon-to-be change that the team will face with two players graduating and two players transferring.
Players shared anecdotes from their experiences through the season, talking about some events that helped grow together and closer in their time in Hawai’i.
The evening closed with Beeman sharing her gratitude to those in attendance and everyone that supported the Rainbow Wahine in their march back to March Madness one more time.
“It takes a village,” Beeman said. “You, ALL of you, are our village.”
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