'Eaters' island alliance

The addition of the University of Hawaii to the Big West Conference, announced Friday and scheduled to begin for the 2012-13 athletic year, should bring a little marquee value to the previously all-California alliance.

It will also add some logistical challenges that have already drawn concern from Anteaters coaches.

In terms of competitive equity, the Warriors (men's teams) and Rainbow Wahine (women's teams) don't send shivers down the spines of most coaches at UCI, though Anteaters' women's volleyball coach Paula Weishoff's job is now monumentally more difficult.

Hawaii, competing now in the Western Athletic Conference, will instantly become the conference's most rabid fan base, with impressive home attendance in many sports bringing the biggest home-site advantage for Big West visitors.

The first thing most UCI coaches thought about when hearing the news had to be travel. Nearly 2,600 miles separate UCI from the Honolulu campus, and depending on how sports handle the scheduling, a two-game weekend road trip could be considered anything but paradise. There is also a time-zone issue, with California being either two or three hours ahead, depending on the time of year.

The increased cost of travel figures to be diluted, if not mitigated totally, by subsidies provided by Hawaii to other Big West schools. But those details have yet to be worked out, a conference official said Monday.

UCI and Hawaii currently share Mountain Pacific Sports Federation membership in men's volleyball, which handles the two-match conference regular season by combining both contests at one school in alternating seasons. So, UCI goes to Hawaii for matches on back-to-back nights one year, while the next season, the two matches are held in Irvine.

This could continue in some sports in which teams play two conference games against each opponent. But men's and women's basketball might be asked to add a California conference rival to a two-game weekend trip that includes Hawaii. This has most often the plight of WAC schools in those sports in recent years.

For instance, Louisiana Tech plays a WAC men's basketball game at Hawaii on Feb. 24, then swings into California to visit San Jose State on Feb. 26.

It is this potentially taxing itinerary that coaches would view as more than a mild disruption.

And those who visit Hawaii for, say a weekend baseball series, often need more than 24 hours upon their return before getting their competitive legs under them.

There is also the philosophical challenge of student-athletes maintaining focus when they might be more prone to think of tanning time than time preparing to compete.

"I think the hardest part about going to Hawaii is that everybody wants to go to Hawaii for vacation and you have to go there for work," Weishoff said.

Weishoff, coming off a disappointing 8-22 season that included a 3-13 conference mark, will join the other eight Big West schools as instant underdogs to a Hawaii program that is among the nation's elite.

The Rainbow Wahine reached the NCAA semifinals in 2009 and finished 29-3 this season, including 16-0 in the WAC, after being upset in the first round of the NCAA Tournament by Washington.

Another Hawaii program that figures to give Big West schools all it can handle is women's water polo. Hawaii finished 18-8 in 2010 and wound up fifth in the MPSF Tournament. It won at UCI, 11-7, on Feb. 27, topping an Anteaters' squad that went on to capture its second straight Big West crown.

Scheduling issues should begin to come together in May, when the Big West Council, consisting of three administrators from each member school, has its next round of meetings.

The UCI men's basketball team plays host to Vanguard Wednesday at 7 p.m. The game will mark the return of Rhett Soliday, an assistant last season at UCI and the Lions' first-year head coach.

UCI's 83-68 nonconference men's basketball win over visiting Wyoming Friday gave first-year coach Russell Turner's Anteaters their fifth win in their last seven games. It also gave a pair of former Cowboys with ties to area colleges a chance to see their alma mater in person.

Vanguard Athletic Director Bob Wilson sat directly behind the Wyoming bench Friday, in the first meeting between the two programs.

Across the way at the Bren Events Center, Orange Coast College women's basketball assistant Steve Popovich took in the game.

Wilson and Popovich were teammates for three seasons at Wyoming and both were standouts on the 1966-67 Cowboys' squad that reached the NCAA Tournament, losing in the first-round to eventual champion UCLA, led by Lew Alcindor, who later became Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Three Corona del Mar High products are playing large roles for the Irvine Valley men's basketball team, which is off to a 10-2 start this season.

Joe Eberhard, who began his collegiate career at UCI, leads the Lasers in scoring (14.2 per game) and is shooting 50% from the field entering Thursday's nonconference home game against Long Beach City. He is a 6-foot-6 sophomore.

Sean Donovan, a 6-4 sophomore, averages 8.5 points and is 19 of 47 from three-point range this season (44.4%).

Ramon Mejia, a 6-0 freshman, is averaging 7.8 points. His 21 three-pointers lead the team and he is shooting 42.9% from beyond the arc.

Irvine Valley visits Orange Empire Conference opponent Orange Coast on Jan. 7.

Coach Steve Spencer's Pirates (3-7) play at Irvine Valley on Feb. 2.

Copyright © 2019, Daily Pilot
EDITION: California | U.S. & World