To borrow from the WNBA, the Guam women's basketball team has got next.
Hungry for a shot at the elusive Pacific Games gold, the women have been toiling away under the guidance of Paul Pineda, who was hired in March after longtime women's coach Eddie Pelkey stepped down. The women last picked up a medal at the 1999 South Pacific Games. While they have medaled (bronze) in Oceania and dominated the Micronesian Games, the Pacific Games has proved tough to conquer.
To do better at the Pacific Games in July in Apia, Samoa, the Guam women are currently in Manila playing collegiate teams to build team chemistry and prepare for the physicality of playing in the Pacific Games.
Currently, Team Guam is 3-0, playing tough down-to-the wire games against Ateneo de Manila, University of the Philippines and Azusa Pacific University, a U.S. Christian college currently on a missions trip in the Philippines for the summer.
Running grueling two-a-days, Team Guam practices in the morning at 8 a.m. before scrimmaging high-caliber teams in the evening.
"In the morning, we have (Philippine Basketball Association), (Philippine Basketball League) and Ateneo coaches in the Philippines working with our team on all aspects of the game," said Guam Basketball Confederation Secretary-General Frank Cruz. "The level of knowledge coming from these coaches has been really effective."
The focus has been on building team chemistry and figuring out lineups.
In the first game, Team Guam dodged Ateneo, edging the Lady Eagles 69-67. With six seconds left, the Eagles knotted the game at 67 apiece off a long 3. But, a quick inbounds play to Chaminade University standout Destiny Castro resulted in a Speedy Gonzalez drive downcourt for the bucket just as time expired.
Against the University of the Philippines Fighting Maroons, Guam held off the scrappy play to lead the entire game, pulling out the 62-58 win.
For the first two games, Pineda experimented with different lineups to get a feel for which players had better chemistry, said assistant coach Stu Schaefer. In the third game, Schaefer said, Guam stuck with a more game-like rotation.
And that chemistry seemed to show, with Guam downing the Azusa Cougars 72-53 Wednesday night. The Cougars, who had their first Elite 8 appearance in the NCAA Division II last season, were no match for the speed and physicality of the Guam women.
Running and harassing the length of the floor, Team Guam fought off a sluggish start for the easy win. On Thursday, Guam faced a tough matchup against the Philippine National Team, but the results were unavailable as of press time. They play National University later today.
"I think the team is starting to believe that we can be a good team," said Pineda. "My job is to make me obsolete and empower the players to decide and make the adjustments during the games, and I think they are starting to buy into that."
The focus is on the team and ensuring they are communicating on and off the court, Pineda said.
"We have great leadership," he said, mentioning the much-needed on- and off-court guidance of Derin Stinnett, Jocelyn Pardilla, Maria Mesa-Nauls and Castro. For Stinnett and Pardilla, this is their third appearance at the Pacific Games, while Castro is in her second. This is the first time Mesa-Nauls, who played guard at California Baptist University, has suited up for Guam.
"(We) want to keep it team-oriented," Pineda said, adding he is seeing contributions from everybody who steps on the court.
Cruz said he is happy with the progress he is seeing from the women on the court.
"We are starting to see the pieces come together," Cruz said. "(Against Azusa), our defensive adjustments have started to make a difference against a much taller U.S. team, and our offensive flow has improved every day."
Cruz said he can see the growth and is excited for the progress.
"I've watched this team develop every day for the past four months," he said. "And to see what has happened this week makes me so excited to see what the future has in store for this team. Guam needs to be proud of what these women are doing."