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PacWest shakeup isolates Hawaii teams

by Chuck Cordill and Flavia Brakling, staff writers


If adversity draws old friends together, the four Pacific West Conference teams from Hawai‘i have a great bonding opportunity. They were left alone when the two conference teams deserted the PacWest.

Hawai‘i Pacific University, Brigham Young University—Hawai‘i, Chaminade University, and University of Hawai‘i—Hilo were left on their own after Montana State University—Billings and Western New Mexico University bolted to join the Heartland Conference. Now, with only four members, the PacWest is not considered a Conference anymore because it does not have the minimum of six participant universities required by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division II.

The decision to join a new conference will cut travel costs for both Montana—State Billings and Western New Mexico because they will no longer have to sponsor trips to Hawaii.

While they won’t officially be a conference, the Hawai‘i teams will be classified as “independent schools” even though they retain ownership of the PacWest name. That means they’ll have to earn their own way in to the post season by qualifying for “at-large” regional positions.

“ The situation presents challenges, but our affiliation with the other three Hawai’i schools remains solid,” said E. Rick Stepien, HPU vice president of administration. “The Presidents of all four schools have expressed a desire to retain our natural alliance. Competition between our schools has always been a positive factor and together we’ll continue this tradition.”

Stepien said that initially, the conference was hopeful that four Texas teams from the Heartland Conference would join the PacWest to form a 10—team conference. But the four backed off, leaving the four Hawaiian teams alone.

The change will not affect any of the current winter or spring sports, but it will make things harder in the fall season. HPU Senior Women’s Administrator Reydan “Tita” Ahuna will be specially challenged with the situation. Since joining the PacWest in 1998, her Lady Sea Warriors had won Conference Championships five times—1998, 1999, 2000, 2003 and 2004—receiving an automatic ticket into regional play. “We won’t have an automatic berth anymore and will have to schedule more games on the mainland, if we can find games … and that is a big if,” Ahuna said.
Ahuna added that it will also be more difficult, at least in this coming season, but hopefully more teams will join Pac West next year and things will get back to normal.

Vera Oliveira, named PacWest Player of the Year last season, said “It’s very frustrating, but we will be ready to play despite any difficulties. It will be even more challenging for us.”

The PacWest will continue to seek new members. Until then, the teams will have the chance to get better acquainted.

“ The school presidents are in talks with other schools and leaving all options on the table,” Stepien said. “If we can get other members, the conference can be reconstituted. This presents a change in scheduling, but there shouldn’t be a major difference. We’ll probably play the other Hawai‘i schools one or two more times in a season,” he added.



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