Thursday | December 14, 2017
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Guarding against failure: Junior Schmelz, senior Sheikh give UH-Hilo women chance to score

Standing outside the Vulcans’ gym before practice earlier this week, Kim Schmelz and Safia Sheikh took turns talking about one another’s offensive ability in glowing terms.

It was suggested that the two guards could, on occasion, put UH-Hilo on their backs this season and carry them to victory in a game by combining for, say, 35 points.

Or 40.

Maybe 50?

“Whoa,” Schmelz said.

It was time to put the breaks on with that talk, Sheikh said, because the two don’t talk offense, just “hard work.”

“I like playing with Kim,” Sheikh said, “because I know what she can do and what she can do with the ball because I played against her last year.

“She’s good offensive player.”

Schmelz laughed, but Sheikh cut in, “No, you are.

“Why do you think I always want to be on your team in practice? We’re never on the same team; we’re always guarding each other.”

That will change Friday when Alaska-Fairbanks has to worry about checking two of the highest-scoring returning players the Pacific West Conference has to offer.

Searching for their first winning season since 2011-12 and picked to finish 10th of 14 conference teams, the Vulcans brought 10 players for a quick two-game season-opening trip to the 49th state, so their fortunes certainly won’t rise and fall with just two of them.

Still, it’s temping to think about what 5-foot-9 junior Schmelz, who averaged a team-leading 14.6 points per game last season, and 5-10 senior Sheikh, who was ninth in PacWest at 15.1 ppg while playing out the string for BYU-Hawaii, can accomplish while teaming up for the first time.

“It about getting to know each other and each others’ styles,” Schmelz said of the team as a whole. “It takes some time, but within a couple of games, we’ll get there.”

Sheikh said she felt little pressure last season even as the Seasiders went through their final season of Division II athletics. Scoring 20 points with regularity and also averaging 4.7 rebounds and three assists a game, Sheikh made third-team all-Conference, then headed home to her native Denmark to plan the next step.

Eventually, she contacted UH-Hilo coach Dave Kaneshiro, and it didn’t take long to hammer out the details.

“I had other opportunities, but this one fitted, so in the end it was mostly just about (UHH),” said Sheikh, who started her career at Division III Pfeiffer University in North Carolina.

Depending on the perspective, Schmelz either has been here forever or she’s just getting started.

It’s both.

A former standout high school player in Sacramento, Calif., she’s already fifth on the Vulcans’ all-time scoring list. While many Vulcans transfer in from junior colleges, take their time to fit in, play their two years and then shuffle out, Schmelz is the rare established standout who still has two years to go.

She made honorable mention all-league last season, so it’s not a stretch that the Vulcans could feature two all-PacWest performers this season.

“We’re not even thinking about offense right now,” Schmelz said. “We’re trying to take care of the defensive end, that’s our big focus of late.

“Offensively, I know we can execute. I know we can give the team what they need. I know Safia is a great scorer. She has a great shot. She definitely going to be big for us.”

Patience Taylor came in with Schmelz for the 2015-16 season and is primed to become another third-year contributor. Taylor, a 6-0 post player, averaged 5.7 points a game and 4.3 rebounds last season while battling injuries.

It might not be fair to say Schmelz and Taylor have changed the way Kaneshiro recruits, but it should be noted he brought in four players directly out high school this season, including guard Sara Shimizu, and forwards Allie Navarette and Malia Lee, all of whom could make their debuts either Friday or Saturday at Fairbanks.

“Because of how (Kim and Patience) have developed and how they’ve worked and improved, now we get them two more years, that certainly is a positive,” Kaneshiro said.

“I think we have some of the same qualities, in wanting to be good, pride and performance, and a willingness to be coached, in some of our new (freshmen) this year.”

While the roles of Schmelz and Sheikh figure to be set, Kaneshiro will use the two games in Alaska as an audition for a trio of point guards, senior Amber Vaughn, junior transfer Alyssa Movchan and Shimizu.

In an 85-34 exhibition loss to Hawaii last week, Vaughn and Movchan each scored five points, playing 17 and 23 minutes, respectively, and Shimizu scored a point in 18 minutes.

“The point guards have a lot to do, so we worked with all three of them last week,” Kaneshiro said. “All three will play the position this week, so we’ll see who kind of can put the team in the best flow. That person will probably have a leg up.”

While 50-point scoring efforts from Schmelz and Sheikh may be a bit unrealistic, the two did combine for 44 in a game last season, albeit while playing in different uniforms.

Schmelz scored a career-high 28 points to spur the Vulcans to a thrilling 79-72 overtime road win. Sheikh contributed 16 for BYU-Hawaii.

“I think we have good team chemistry,” Sheikh said. “I think we have can get a long way with that because people work really hard.”


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