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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, November 19, 2001

Wahine beat San Jose, take fourth straight WAC

By Ann Miller
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawai'i players celebrate the Wahine's fourth straight Western Athletic Conference volleyball championship following a 30-22, 30-27, 30-22 victory over San Jose State.

Associated Press

SAN JOSE — From the opening moments of this University of Hawai'i volleyball season, anyone with even a passing interest in the program came to expect the unexpected. That only made the Wahine's annual surge to the Western Athletic Conference championship sweeter.

In three days at The Event Center, against three increasingly difficult opponents, 11th-ranked Hawai'i never blinked. It blasted San Jose State in yesterday's 1 p.m. WAC Tournament final, 30-22, 30-27, 30-22, and still had time to shower before catching a 5 p.m. plane home.

Three weeks into the season, the Wahine were 3-4 and down two All-Americans — Lily Kahumoku, who took her junior season off, and national high school player of the year Jennifer Saleaumua, who never made it to Manoa. All-conference middle Veronica Lima decided to stay in Brazil after last year's final four, just to make it really interesting.

The Wahine who remained refused to fold.

Wahine Jennifer Carey, left, and Nohea Tano team to block a shot against San Jose State during the first game of the Western Athletic Conference Volleyball Tournament championship match in San Jose.

Associated Press

Going into this weekend's Bankers Classic in California, Hawai'i is 26-4 and owns the WAC's berth in the NCAA Tournament. It has not lost a match in 10 weeks nor a game in three.

Yesterday's WAC championship — the Wahine's fourth straight — meant much more than before.

Coach Dave Shoji put it up there with Hawai'i's victory in the last WAC Tournament. That was three years ago, in the longest match in NCAA history (3 hours, 31 minutes). UH prevailed 24-22 in the fifth game against Brigham Young.

That year, the Wahine were on the brink of exhaustion. These Wahine are on the cusp of achieving something that would have been unthinkable three months ago.

"This team has over-achieved," Shoji admitted. "We're not as talented as we were the last three years. People just assume we're going to win these kinds of games. They've got to give a little credit to my staff, for one, and just the toughness of people like Margaret (Vakasausau), (Nohea) Tano and (Lauren) Duggins, who haven't played much before.

All-tournament team
 •  MVP:
Kim Willoughby (Hawai'i)
 •  All-tournament:
Lauren Duggins (Hawai'i)
Maja Gustin (Hawai'i)
Brianna Blair (San Jose)
Shauna McQuaid (Fresno)
Michelle More (Nevada)
Stephanie Pascucci (San Jose)
 •  Setter:
Margaret Vakasausau (Hawai'i)
 •  Defensive Specialist:
Karli Silveira (San Jose)
"A lot of people took it for granted that we would win the league, but the other teams are a lot closer to us than in years past. I really can't say enough about this team. They have really gotten better, really stayed together as a team. They've trained hard; they take this seriously; they believe in themselves. This was not an easy time for us."

What might be most impressive about this last week in San Jose was how easy the Wahine made it appear. They plowed over Tulsa on some five hours sleep, then frustrated feisty Fresno State.

Yesterday, top-seeded Hawai'i swatted the third-seeded Spartans (22-7) at their best. A month ago in San Jose, it took UH five games to put San Jose away.

"I give Hawai'i credit," Spartans coach Craig Choate said. "They are playing much better than when we first saw them here.

"The biggest change is in (Maja) Gustin. She is absolutely locking in to being a nice left-side hitter now. When they played here the first time I thought it was just Kim (Willoughby) versus us. That's not the case anymore. You've got two left sides. There's no rest anymore."

The dynamic duo rained kills on the Spartans yesterday. Gustin, an all-tournament selection, pounded 18 and her serving helped the Wahine pull away early in Game 1. For the second day in a row, Willoughby went for 26 kills and 17 often-spectacular digs — her 18th double-double of the season. The tournament MVP is one kill away from the UH season record (688) set by Teee Williams 13 years ago.

"Those two," San Jose senior Brianna Blair said, "are basically unstoppable."

Around them, every other Wahine played her role to perfection. Vakasausau, the all-tournament setter, had a dozen digs and her selective use of Duggins — also all-tournament — and Tano allowed them to hit .444. The middles were in on all six UH stuffs and got their hands on nearly everything else.

That made the Wahine defense often look foolproof. There were times when San Jose simply could not put a ball on the floor. The Spartans hit just .207, despite ripping their way to a big early advantage in Game 2. Only Blair could dent Hawai'i's defense.

"We know what we have and we kind of come in with a cocky attitude because we've beat them," Vakasausau said. "We came into their house and beat them in five. We knew we would prevail."

Kim Willoughby had a typical day: 26 kills and 17 digs.

Advertiser library photo

The Wahine never trailed in Game 1 as Willoughby landed her first three swings on the first three serves. They erased a 10-4 deficit in Game 2 when Jennifer Carey's serving took San Jose out of its offense and Willoughby blasted 11 kills. Hawai'i went on a 10-3 surge to end the match.

"It looks easy sometimes," Shoji admitted. "Kim makes it look easy a lot of the time, but just about everybody else has to work really hard. And defensively, we've come a long way."

The Wahine have now won their past 58 against WAC opponents. Yesterday's victory, which came with a WAC hat and shirt and an NCAA Tournament berth, was the best yet. But even after all it endured before the season started, it still ranked low on Hawai'i's wish list.

"We want a national championship, that's where we've set our goal," Willoughby said. "Winning the WAC is a way to get there ... We've come really far. We still have a long way to go. We're not at our best (yet)."