More than a game: Rainbow Wahine tennis team rallies around head coach's late father

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The 2017-2018 campaign for the Rainbow Wahine tennis will go down in history for many reasons. For one, the Wahine busted the Big West Conference Tournament bracket to win their first Big West title. Secondly, the 'Bows will play in their second-ever NCAA Tournament.

But what won't be in the record books decades from now when the players and coaching staff have moved on from Manoa is the adversity the team had to go through to get here. In a sport like tennis, where focus, concentration and poise are key factors whether a player wins or losses, the team nearly fell apart during their championship run.

Head coach Jun Hernandez lost his father, Roger, during Hawaii's tournament run after a year of medical hardships.

"I knew that there was a possibility that I was going to be going to San Diego to go and visit my father," Hernandez said. "But this team really gave me a lot of strength. I know they've gone through a lot as well. They've been really supportive of what actions had to be taken. I got to spend some time (with my father) and actually in fact I haven't really told a lot of people this, it's really in the team. They really gave me a lot of confidence to miss the match against CSUN."

Hernandez's father was 84 when he past away. Hernandez credited his father for introducing him to tennis at a young age, explaining how important the game was to him and his brothers growing up.

The team knew how important it was for Hernandez to be with his father in his final days, and reassured him that they would perform in the tournament in his absence.

"My team said please, take your time. Just stay there for your family," Hernandez said. "And so I'm really thankful for that - I got to spend the last few days with my dad. To have them do it and be supportive of my decision to be with my father, that was really special."

The team said that they won the Big West for Roger and their coach. Without their inspiration, the team wouldn't have been able to stay focused on the task at hand.

"I'm sure I speak for my whole team - we pretty much wanted to compete for his father," said Petra Melounova. "Because even before the Santa Barbara match, he inspired us saying how much of a fighter is dad is."

Throughout the conference tournament, Hernandez did his best to stay in touch with the team when he was with his father in San Diego. Senior Marina Hruba helped relay messages from Hernandez to the team, all while being a supportive figure when her coach needed her the most.

"We already know that we got each other's backs," Hruba. "I was even messaging him to take care of whatever it is that he needs to take care of and that you know we're going to be fine here and do as much as it takes for us to win."

Hernandez and the Wahine will now to turn their attention to the NCAA Championships when they take on No. 23 Michigan on Friday.

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