With the new semester arrives new classes and new sporting events to distract you from finishing the work of said classes. Before you jump into the welcoming embrace of spring sports, here’s a recap of the big storylines you may have missed from last semester.
Ben Jay resigns
Ben Jay was always a controversial figure to Hawai‘i sports fans. Between his decision to unify all teams under the same name (to the offense of many football fans), the financial performance of the athletic department and questions about his qualifications for the job, Jay had his detractors. While not entirely in his control, he failed to solve many of the athletics programs’ issues, most visibly demonstrated by the increasing number of empty seats at Aloha Stadium.
Whether he chose to resign, or was forced to, it was clear that he was in over his head with the position. With his departure, the University of Hawai‘i once again finds itself in search of a new athletic director following the short terms of Jay and Jim Donovan before him.
Injuries and quarterback struggles were the pervading themes of the 2014 Hawai‘i football season. After a promising start to the season that saw Hawai‘i push PAC-12 foes Washington and Oregon State, things quickly spiraled out of control. Star running back Joey Iosefa missed large chunks of time first after breaking his ankle, then after acquiring a DUI for which he was suspended. Starting quarterback Ikaika Woolsey failed to consistently move the ball in an offense that averaged 20.9 points per game. Experiments with backup quarterbacks Taylor Graham and Jeremy Higgins resulted in both sustaining season-ending injuries, while the once-strong linebacking corps was in constant flux due to a number of ailments, including the loss of Jerrol Garcia-Williams to a torn ACL.
The volatile environment lead to a 2-8 start, angering fans who hoped for progress following head coach Norm Chow’s 4-20 record in his first two seasons. As the losses piled up, so did criticism of Chow, with some fans calling for the coach to resign or be fired.
Despite the poor start, Hawai‘i finished the season strong, pitching a rare shutout at San Jose State and stealing a last-second win against UNLV, leaving Hawai‘i with an unlikely chance to advance to the Mountain West title game (along with a potential bowl invite) prior to their final game of the season against Fresno State. Fresno State eventually won the game (and the division title with it) to end the season with Hawai‘i fans’ hopes crushed at the last second.
On Oct. 28th, just a couple of weeks prior to the start of the men’s basketball season, former head coach Gib Arnold was released from the program. Amidst an ongoing NCAA investigation regarding impermissible benefits and altered paperwork, the athletic department chose to release Arnold along with assistant coach Brandyn Akana before the conclusion of the investigation. The situation also led to the departure of star forward Isaac Fotu to the professional level, and transfer the freshman recruit Sammis Reyes.
The surprise firings left the program with only two coaches on staff, with one of them, Benjy Taylor, being named the acting head coach. Despite the short notice and unstable situation, Taylor quickly assembled a staff and rescued a program that looked to be on the brink of collapse, leading them to a 12-4 non-conference record with wins over Pittsburgh, Nebraska and Colorado. The young team (led by lone senior Garrett Nevels, the only returning starter) displayed its inexperience at times but has proven that it’s also talented enough to play with anybody on the schedule.
With the announcement of the NCAA investigations still looming over the program and no announcement in regards to the future of Benjy Taylor as the head coach of the program, the men’s basketball team is not yet out of the woods. However, the team has dispelled any notions of this being a lost season in spite of the losses the program endured. The Rainbow Warriors will try to improve upon last year’s 4th place conference finish in an improved Big West (currently rated 15th in conference RPI after finishing 22nd last season).
Volleyball program troubles
Both the women’s volleyball team and the sand volleyball team suffered tough losses last semester.
In the case of Dave Shoji’s indoor team, the Rainbow Wahine had a poor year marked by uncharacteristic conference losses and an early exit in the NCAA tournament. In losing to Washington, the Wahine failed to advance past the second round for the first time since losing to Washington in the second round in 2010. In recent years, Hawai‘i has struggled to maintain its place among college volleyball’s elite, and the early tournament loss only weakens their tenuous position.
In the case of the sand volleyball team, the Wahine had a very successful year, advancing all the way to the national semifinals before succumbing to Florida State. Led by young coach Scott Wong, the Wahine had an impressive campaign in the 2014 season.
The season ended on a sour note however. Scott Wong was wooed away by his alma mater, the Pepperdine Waves, to head their indoor women’s team. With no replacement confirmed, the Wahine may be in for a rocky campaign in 2015, despite a talented squad.