CWU Basketball says farewell to Harada

Courtesy of CWU Athletics

Courtesy of CWU Athletics

Natalie Hyland, Senior Sports Reporter

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On April 17 it was announced that Jeff Harada, coach of the women’s basketball team,  had resigned from his position and accepted a job at California State University Fullerton as its head coach. After three years heading up the Wildcats’ team, Harada’s official last day was Friday, April 21.

While only three players –Jasmin Edwards, Rachel Lorentson and Beverly Verduin –have been with the program since Harada’s arrival, every player is now experiencing the tremendous loss of the coach who  turned the program around.

Harada, a native of Hawaii, will now have the chance to return home at least once a year for games against the University of Hawaii, which competes alongside CSUF in the Big West Conference of the NCAA.

Before he left, Harada was able to share his home with the Wildcats when they traveled to Hawaii for games against Brigham Young University Hawaii and Hawaii Hilo on Nov. 18 and 19.

“Hawaii was special, that’s his hometown, so he got to take us to all these cool beaches and little shops and restaurants,” said Edwards, a junior at CWU and one of the team’s guards. “All the time we got to spend with him was awesome.”

Informing the team of his new job was one of the hardest things Harada said he has done  in a while. He called a team meeting the Friday before the public announcement to let the team know what would be happening in the coming weeks and to prepare for the barrage of questions that would soon be coming their way.

“I care deeply about [this team]. I’m not leaving because I don’t like them, or because I don’t want to be there for them,” Harada said. “There was an opportunity for me to accomplish things that I’ve set out to do from a long time.”

I care deeply about [this team]. I’m not leaving because I don’t like them, or because I don’t want to be there for them. There was an opportunity for me to accomplish things that I’ve set out to do from a long time.”

— Jeff Harada

Harada first set his sights on coaching at a Division I level nearly 20 years ago. He wasn’t looking to leave the Wildcats, but felt the opportunity would be too good to pass up. When he had a moment, Harada took the time to reflect on his journey with the team.

“There was a lot of confusion and unknowns [when I got here]. The program was in a rough patch,” Harada said. “The players I inherited wanted to win. They wanted to experience more success and they wanted a better overall experience.”

The year before, Harada took over as head coach, the Wildcats went 2-16 in GNAC play during the 2013-14 season. After just one season under Harada’s leadership, the team’s conference record improved to 7-11, with nearly four times as many wins and a winning home-court record.

Harada was hired at CWU in late May of 2014. At that point, he was unable to do much more than suggest workouts, because coaches aren’t allowed to work out with their players during the offseason.

“It was more of us just getting to know each other on a personal level and figuring out what each other’s goals were,” Harada said.

In his final season, Harada lead the team to its first post-season win in program history in the 58-57 upset of Simon Fraser in the first round of the GNAC tournament. He also  also lead the Wildcats to a 10-11 conference record.

“Being able to win a game in the conference tournament was a very special moment not only for [Harada], but just for our team and our program,” Randi Richardson, interim head coach, said.

Richardson joined the program during Harada’s second year as an assistant coach and was named as the interim coach in the wake of his departure while the team begins the search for their new coach.

During the 2016-17 season, many players also set career highs and broke a few CWU records. Edwards, who joined the team during Harada’s first season as coach, now holds the record for the most assists in CWU women’s basketball history, with a total of 430 assists in her first three years.

Edwards’ fondest memories included the pre-season retreat the entire team took to Suncadia Resort in Cle Elum before the season began.

“Our retreat was really awesome,” Edwards said. “It was a chance for all of us to bond.”

Sophomore guard Sadie Mensing, a standout for the Wildcats in her second year, also shared what having Harada as a coach meant to her. Mensing joined the Wildcats at the beginning of the 2015-16 season and has benefited from Harada’s coaching off the court as well as in games.

“One of the reasons I came [to CWU] was because I felt like he really wanted me here and believed in me,” Mensing said. “He definitely taught me to focus on not taking anything for granted.”

After two seasons with the Wildcats, Mensing boasts 380 points and 174 rebounds under Harada’s leadership. Mensing’s career-high 19 points boosted the Wildcats to a 77-63 win over Western Oregon University on Jan. 19. Some of Mensing’s favorite memories include Harada’s post-win celebrations like the one that took place that night.

“Whenever we would have a good win he would come into the locker room just like screaming and cheering and yelling,” Mensing  said.

Whenever we would have a good win he would come into the locker room just like screaming and cheering and yelling.”

— Sadie Mensing

Another player who had a strong season with the Wildcats this season was junior forward Taylor Baird. Baird joined the Wildcats this season after transferring from Division I Southern Utah University.   

Harada “gave me a huge opportunity when I left Utah. You can’t talk to [another program] until you’ve been released from [your current] program so to leave…  is pretty risky,” Baird said.  “He wasn’t sure exactly what he was going to get, but he took a leap of faith and it turned out really good.”

In a single season with the Wildcats, Baird had a season-high 26 points against Northwest Nazarene on Feb. 21.

Throughout the interviews, a commonality began to show itself in both the players, and the coach himself.

“He really loves quotes, every week we have a quote of the week,” Edwards said. “All of the quotes he’s given us we can use in the future.”

One of the quotes Harada remembers and feels is extremely relevant now is, “Don’t let life change your goals, because achieving your goals could change your life.”

“I’m not allowing life to change my goals. For me, finally accomplishing one of my major goals career-wise is going to change my life,” Harada said. “Though I’m not going to be here physically, I hope in spirit they know that I’m there with them and I’ll be cheering them on from afar.”

When all was said and done, no better words summed up the feeling of the Wildcats’ team as Harada departed than Mensing’s.

“We’re happy for him, but it’s a tough loss at the same time,” Mensing  said. “He will be so missed.”

We’re happy for him, but it’s a tough loss at the same time. He will be so missed.”

— Sadie Mensing

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CWU Basketball says farewell to Harada