Mana Wahine Wednesday: Hawai’i women’s basketball alum Olivia Davies

Mana Wahine Wednesday: Hawai’i women’s basketball alum Olivia Davies

Olivia Davies drives against a defender. The guard finished her playing career this past season and will join the UH athletics department for her practicum. | Photo Credit: HSRN Staff

Mana Wahine Wednesday: Hawai’i women’s basketball alum Olivia Davies

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED JUNE 26, 2024

HONOLULU – Olivia Davies’ basketball life has been a chapter book, one wrought with adversity and triumph all the way through her final playing season with Hawai’i. 

After suffering multiple season-ending knee injuries, experiencing a pandemic at the same time as one of those injuries and the mental struggles that came with it and coming out on top as a multi-time Big West champion, the look back down the road for Davies is a long, bumpy ride. 

CHAPTER 1: The Ghost Recruit 

The former Rainbow Wahine standout spent her high school career like most elite youth basketball players, traveling with her father to participate in weekend tournaments. From Alaska, Davies was forced to look and play for different club teams, including a program that traveled to Oregon each weekend, to maximize her exposure to college coaches. 

“The reality [was] if you didn’t get out of the state, you weren’t going to be seen,” Davies said of the experience as a high school student-athlete in Alaska. “There weren’t really any coaches coming up there at the time.” 

As a star on and off the court, the young guard grinded to make sure her options for college were wide open. Sometimes leaving home for a month at a time, Davies had to keep up with schoolwork while handling the pressure of being a Division I basketball prospect. Despite that extreme effort by Davies, a brief move to the state of Washington proved to be more harmful than helpful for her exposure. 

Overall though, it may have ended up for the best. 

“When I moved to Washington to get more visibility, that fell through and deterred the other offers that I had just because I couldn’t travel for that year and that’s really big for college coaches to see consistency. They were like, where did she go?” the Rainbow Wahine alum chuckled. “I think everything worked out though the way I needed it to work out. Like, I’m super grateful that I ended up where I am and it was a beautiful experience – I spent five years here, I obviously liked it – but I knew coming into it, [Hawai’i] was going to be home.” 

Despite being a self-admitted “horrible recruit” during the time that the Rainbow Wahine pursued the then-high school senior, Hawai’i never gave up on trying to bring Davies into the program. Though she seemed quiet on the phone and somewhat reserved, the coaching staff knew the Alaskan sharpshooter would fit in nicely as soon as she arrived for a visit. 

“I had, like, piercings and rainbow Crocs, and [the coaches] were like oh yeah, she’s going to love it here. She’s going to be okay,” Davies recalled. 

Hawai’i’s program-wide mindset of competing for championships spoke volumes to Davies as well, who stated that as her number one desire in her college destination in an early conversation with Hawai’i head coach Laura Beeman. The longtime Rainbow Wahine coach kept it honest with Davies, telling her that winning is what the program expected. While Beeman promised to also develop Davies as a young woman, she didn’t mince words about how the team’s culture came first. 

“From that conversation, I was like [Coach Beeman] is so much different from other coaches,” Davies said of her coach’s recruiting pitch. “That made the decision so much easier because I knew she [always was going to be straight up with us].” 

That might have been the last easy part of Davies’ career. 

Hawai’i guard Olivia Davies dribbles the ball at home against UC Santa Barbara. | Photo Credit: Michael Lasquero, HSRN

CHAPTER 2: The Injury Bug

While redshirting the 2019-20 season, Davies and the rest of the Rainbow Wahine were sent home during the Big West Tournament due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Faced with an unbelievable scenario, Davies found herself spending a lot of time alone. 

“It was really hard; I think it was hard for a lot of people … I was coming off of my ACL injury, too, so for like three or four months, I couldn’t rehab my knee,” she said. 

With the next season having multiple games cancelled and confidence in her knee lacking, it was another trying season for the guard from Alaska. She eventually made her way back into the lineup, appearing in 15 games (13 starts) and playing nearly 26 minutes per night in the 2020-21 COVID-19-shortened season.  

Davies followed it up with a solid redshirt freshman campaign in 2021-22, appearing in 24 games (16 starts) for the Rainbow Wahine. Her sophomore season quickly ended after six games, suffering another season-ending injury that sapped as much of her confidence as it did physical ability. 

“The biggest [struggle] was that I knew I wasn’t going to be able to perform the way that I wanted to,” Davies said of the impact of her second major injury in college. “It was like I was playing at 60% of my true capabilities [when I came back] … [my knee] was like hey, I’m kind of over this playing thing.” 

Despite her bad luck, Davies tried to take the best from her adverse situation. With the help of multiple conversations with Beeman, the guard returned to the Rainbow Wahine for her junior season. 

“She always left it up to me,” Davies said. “I would come in some days and be like I don’t think I can do this … She never [told me to play or stop]. We had conversations about giving myself an opportunity.” 

 

CHAPTER 3: One Last Go and Gone… 

With comfort in her decision to give the season a go, the guard knew another grueling year was ahead of managing her knee and remaining confident in her body to hold up under her. It meant getting up earlier in the morning to do rehab, it meant staying hours after practice to receive treatment and it meant being ready to handle the ups and downs that the season typically presents. 

“It’s that ebb and flow of finding what brings you that drive and brings you that peace while acknowledging the fact – I DO feel this way and that’s okay,” said Davies of the mental battles she faced during her last season. 

The guard went as far as changing her style of play after losing her explosiveness on drives, learning to do more of her damage from behind the arc rather than breaking down defenders on the way to the rim. Even with the change for health and effectiveness, Davies knew the 2023-24 season would be her last despite having an additional year of eligibility. With that comfort and closure, she focused on making her final season memorable and enjoyable. The Rainbow Wahine won the regular season Big West crown and appeared in the inaugural Women’s Basketball Invitation Tournament, bowing out with a first-round loss to California in which Davies enjoyed an efficient final game in college. 

“I think injuries are talked about, mental health is talked about, but living [with the injury] day-to-day is something that we don’t talk about,” Davies said. 

Hawai’i celebrates seniors Olivia Davies and Ashley Thoms following final home game of 2023-24. | Photo Credit: Paul Brecht, HSRN

CHAPTER 4: … To the Other Side of the Bench 

Now finished with playing ball, Davies is far from done with her work in sports. At an early age, her interest was piqued by psychology and trying to figure out how other minds work. After studying psychology for her undergraduate degree, the retired hooper is now close to completing her master’s degree. With her practicum as an internship dealing with behavioral and mental health with University of Hawai’i athletics, Davies is in a familiar place pursuing a passion she’s long had; helping other people.  

Using her education and her personal experiences of dealing with major injury and mental health battles, Davies hopes to work with and help future generations of athletes handle the less glamorous side of being a college student-athlete. 

“I’ve just always been drawn to helping people, making sure people are okay,” Davies said. ”Being able to share myself with other people in that way I think is very, very beneficial.” 

Despite all the setbacks, Davies always provided a beacon of light for her Rainbow Wahine teammates. Though her playing career ended with the highest honors, Davies’ upward trajectory will not stop with the bouncing of the ball. Luckily for UH, her knowledge and care will continue in the islands, too. 

Mana Wahine Wednesday: Hawai’i women’s water polo utility Lot Stertefeld

Mana Wahine Wednesday: Hawai’i women’s water polo utility Lot Stertefeld

Hawai’i Rainbow Wahine utility player Lot Stertefeld handles the ball for UH in a match. The senior is one of four players that will be honored on April 13 for Senior Night. | Photo Credit: Ku’ulei Agbayani, HSRN

Mana Wahine Wednesday: Hawai’i women’s water polo utility Lot Stertefeld

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED APR 10, 2024

HONOLULU – Perhaps you don’t know her from her sport. You should, but you might not. 

Maybe, you recognize Hawai’i Rainbow Wahine utility player Lot Stertefeld from her day job, working as a student worker on campus serving concessions for Sodexo during other Hawai’i athletic events. 

As an international college student-athlete, Stertefeld must work on campus. With a full-time job’s worth of work in being an athlete, a full load of courses and the slightest social life, having work fit into a schedule can be difficult. Thanks in part to a flexible boss that helps get a schedule that works for the senior, Stertefeld and the Rainbow Wahine have been able to focus on one of the strongest seasons in program history. 

When Hawai’i enters the water on Saturday, it will mark one final time that a special group of four players, three from international backgrounds, take part in a match in the Duke Kahanamoku Aquatic Complex for the Rainbow Wahine. 

Emma Gurasich, Alba Bonamusa Boix, Lucia Gomez de la Puente and, of course, Stertefeld have all seen some incredible moments for the UH program, ranked an all-time program-high 2nd in the nation for the past seven weeks en route to a third regular-season Big West title in the past four seasons. 

From the eastern side of the Netherlands to the middle of the Pacific Ocean, success in the water polo pool is all Stertefeld has known. 

The senior utility player for Hawai’i comes from a water polo background, growing up with a father in Jaap Stertefeld that played the sport and was an official for water polo after his athletic career. With both parents pushing her and her two brothers to participate in team sports, soccer was the first try at athletics. 

“We tried soccer first and… that wasn’t it,” Stertefeld laughed. “My dad was like ‘let me take you to the pool’ and we signed up … I just loved [water polo] so much [that I kept playing].” 

Her two brothers, two and three years older in age, dove headfirst into the aquatic football activity as well, setting the tone and toughening up their younger sister. Stertefeld remembers family time competing on vacation in lakes against her dad and brothers in fun small-sided games. The conversation about water polo didn’t end when the family left the water, either. 

“[My family] are like, role models in water polo … All of our dinners are about water polo,” the senior utility chuckled. “My dad is a ref so he would give me tips, tell me what not to do or tell he saw that was wrong so that was fun on a dining table after a game.” 

Those tips, tricks and tune-ups worked to the favor of a young Stertefeld as she became an elite youth player, helping lead the Netherlands to a runner-up finish at both the U17 European Youth Championships in Serbia and the 2019 U20 World Youth Championships in Portugal. Her international experience also includes a bronze medal at the U20 European Youth Championships in 2019. 

When the time came for a decision on college, Hawai’i was the place that had caught the eye of the Dutch star with the assist of head coach Maureen Cole’s recruiting skills. After the 2019 World Youth Championships in Portugal, Cole sent a message to Stertefeld to test interest in joining the Rainbow Wahine program. To that point, a move to the United States had not crossed Stertefeld’s mind for more than a second. 

That changed after a few messages (and pictures) from Coach Mo. 

“She showed me some pictures of the islands and I was like ‘Sold!’ – like that’s amazing, [the outdoor pool], like all the pools back home are indoors, it’s always gloomy weather, it’s cold, it’s rainy,” Stertefeld said. “[In Hawai’i], it’s sunny all the time so it was an easy choice.” 

The opportunity to mix her prowess in the pool with her love for academics in the collegiate sports model in America also drew the interest of the Dutch standout. According to Stertefeld, it’s difficult to join education with athletics back home in the Netherlands and the chance to combine the two was a major factor in the move. 

Stertefeld has gone on to double-major, seeing herself dive into the world of both sociology and psychology as her majors. While rocking out in the pool, the senior has dominated in the classroom as well to the tune of multiple all-conference academic recognitions and a placement on the Big West Commissioner’s Honor Roll as a junior. 

Once she’s done in the islands, Stertefeld plans to pursue a masters’ degree in sports psychology in London with a desire to continue staying in athletics and working with future college student-athletes.  

The marriage in the pool has worked in both the senior and Hawai’i’s favor as the Rainbow Wahine have gone 66-17 over the four-season partnership, seeing three regular-season conference crowns and a Big West Championship win in Stertefeld’s freshman season – which she and other seniors referenced as one of their favorite memories while at UH. With a win on Saturday, Hawai’i would clinch the second perfect conference slate in the last three years and the third time since joining the Big West. 

Overall, Stertefeld has been a part of a historical group of Rainbow Wahine in the pool. For anyone who paid attention to her entire journey, the massive heights that the ‘Bows have reached this year and before are no surprise. For Stertefeld, the journey has been the transformative experience of a lifetime. 

“I feel like I just grew a lot here as a person,” the Dutch senior reflected. “The first time I’ve lived by myself, speaking different languages, meeting so many great people, getting to play under Coach Mo and Coach [James Robinson], I think [the entire experience has just] been great.” 

Hawai’i wraps up the regular season on Saturday, April 13 at Duke Kahanamoku Aquatic Complex against UC Santa Barbara at 6:00 p.m. HT and will honor four senior and head coach Maureen Cole, who is retiring after 13 seasons at the helm of the Rainbow Wahine program. UH enters the contest on a six-match winning streak and is looking for the second unbeaten conference season in the past three years. 

For the seniors, it’s about going out on the right note for themselves, Coach Mo, and the wonderful fans of Hawai’i. The experience is something that they will never forget. 

“I’m super grateful to have spent my years in Hawai’i and to play for such an amazing state,” Stertefeld reflected. “It just feels like we are so supported and loved and that’s just a really special feeling. I’m really thankful for that and I’m sad to leave but excited to look forward in my life.” 

Mana Wahine Wednesday: Hawai’i women’s water polo utility player Jordan Wedderburn

Mana Wahine Wednesday: Hawai’i women’s water polo utility player Jordan Wedderburn

Big West water polo player of the week Jordan Wedderburn in action in a home conference matchup. | Photo Credit: Ku’ulei Agbayani, HSRN

Mana Wahine Wednesday: Hawai’i women’s water polo utility player Jordan Wedderburn

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED MAR 27, 2024

HONOLULU – From the stunning “City of Gold” in South Africa to heavenly Hawai’i, Jordan Wedderburn has enjoyed the journey that water polo has carried her on. 

She’s been a quick learner, picking up the sport in high school and taking the path she never truly expected. 

“Growing up [in South Africa], water polo wasn’t really a big sport, so I never really knew what it was until I moved high schools and my new high school that I went to offered water polo and I kind of wanted to try it,” Wedderburn said. “The rest is history; I just went from there.” 

While she’s grown to love the sport now, that same passion wasn’t necessarily there from Day 1 in the pool. 

“At first, I did swimming, and I did netball at home – which is kind of like basketball for those that don’t know. I was kind of just like it ‘oh well, it seems like it’s both of them put together and I’m kind of average at both of them, so I’ll try it out,’” Wedderburn recalled. “I actually hated it, like my first practice I hated it.” 

Yet thankfully, her parents would not allow the then-13-year-old to give up after a single day of the sport, encouraging her to return the next day and give it a week’s worth of a chance. 

That week didn’t change her mind, but it gave her parents enough time to think of a way to keep her in the sport for that season. 

“I went for the first week of practice which was like the worst week of practice ever because it was just conditioning,” Wedderburn laughed. “I didn’t want to carry on, I actually said to my parents that [I was done and didn’t want to go back]. They were like ‘Well, you’ve committed now so you have to go back for the whole season.’” 

After some encouragement from her parents, the young water polo player went back to the pool, making friends that kept her interest in the sport before she finally began enjoying water polo in her later years of high school. By learning the rules of the game, strategies and developing chemistry with her team, Wedderburn quickly developed into an excellent player. 

In four years at the varsity level, she helped lead her squad to back-to-back titles in 2019 and 2020 in the Reef Cup and Old Petrian Tournaments, taking care of business in the classroom as well after receiving the academic award for her junior and senior years. After graduating in December 2020 from high school, Wedderburn had to make a choice between continuing her water polo career or turning focus fully on her studies. 

With the help of the coronavirus shutdown of the world and a strict lockdown in South Africa, Wedderburn decided she wanted to continue her career in the pool in the states and began to apply and reach out to schools with water polo programs, though one place sat in her mind. 

“Hawai’i was always in the back of my mind because … I met one of my teammates now, Bernadette Doyle, at World Champs in 2019 and I had heard that she played at the University of Hawai’i, and I was like ‘Wow, that’s so cool,” the junior utility player remembered. “I reached out to [head coach Maureen Cole] and we chatted a little bit and the rest is history. They offered me a spot on the team, and I was like ‘Okay, it’s Hawai’i, why would I say no?’” 

The junior utility player for Hawai’i women’s water polo has enjoyed success ever since joining the program ahead of that 2022 season, never seeing a schedule eclipse six total losses in two and a half years. She made her debut in her freshman season in Michigan, immediately making a mark by recording her first two points. In all, her first year at the college level was a success with 24 total points recorded (15 goals, 9 assists). 

Her growth continued from there, appearing in all 27 matches during Hawai’i’s 2023 season, seeing the Rainbow Wahine go 21-6 and falling in overtime of the Big West Championship game to UC Irvine, 10-9. In her sophomore season, the South African utility player proved to be a force for UH, scoring 40 goals (3rd-most among Hawai’i players) through the season while posting three hat tricks. Most matches, fans could count on Wedderburn scoring at least once as she put the ball in the back of the net in 21 of those 27 contests. 

That success has parlayed itself into an even better junior season for the South Africa native, already up to 27 goals scored in just 16 matches, including four hat-tricks in some of the Rainbow Wahine’s biggest outings of the season. Following her outstanding performance against USC back on March 16, when the junior utility recorded her third hat-trick of the season to help deliver Hawai’i to a two-game winning streak against the University of Southern California for just the fifth win in program history against the Trojans and first home victory in 21 meetings in Honolulu, Wedderburn was named the Big West Water Polo player of the week for the first time in her career. 

The junior was the record-breaking fifth Rainbow Wahine player this season to be honored, snapping the previous record of four, coming back in the 2013 season. Wedderburn joins Bia Mantellato Dias, Bernadette Doyle, Lucia Gomez de la Puente and Daisy Logtens as Hawai’i players to receive the honor this season. 

Despite the first selection of her career by the conference, the bigger accomplishment in the mind of Wedderburn was helping deliver the Rainbow Wahine’s first two-game winning streak over USC ever, snapping a 27-game losing streak against the West Coast powerhouse in the process. 

“It was insane,” she recalled. “I think we just really got the ball rolling really well in the beginning of the season, obviously with a couple big wins against Stanford, USC and some close games against UCLA as well. It’s just getting that confidence that you do belong up there with the best teams, you know?” 

Once was cool, but twice? 

“Just to [beat USC] again, it kind of just solidified to us that we do have a real good chance of going pretty far this season and we are in reach of our goals. We just need to keep working hard and pushing hard and hopefully everything will work out for us,” she continued. 

The Rainbow Wahine were ranked 3rd in the nation, behind only UCLA and Cal, in the Collegiate Water Polo Association rankings released last Wednesday, March 20. New rankings are released each Wednesday by the committee. Hawai’i won both matches this past weekend, putting on a pair of dominant displays with a 20-4 win over Cal State Fullerton and a 12-4 victory over CSUN. 

Hawai’i returns to action on Friday, March 29 inside the Duke Kamehameha Aquatic Center, hosting UC San Diego with the match scheduled to begin at 6:00 p.m. HT.