Wahine sweep Cincinnati
By Ann Miller
Advertiser Staff Writer
Literally and figuratively, the difference between Friday and Saturday was night and day for the University of Hawai'i Wahine.
Jeff Widener The Honolulu Advertiser
Hawai'i's Melody Eckmier, left, and Maja Gustin go up for a block yesterday against Cincinnati. The Wahine won the afternoon match, 30-24, 30-22, 30-16, behind Kim Willoughby's 22 kills, 14 digs and six blocks.
Jeff Widener The Honolulu Advertiser
The Trojans (4-1) became the first team other than Hawai'i to win the Challenge, defeating Utah State, 30-18, 30-19, 30-21, later in the day.
By then, the Wahine (4-4) had moved on and sophomore Kim Willoughby's reputation had moved up. She had a double-double midway through the second game and finished with 22 kills, 14 digs and six stuffs, hitting an outrageous .556.
"The thing is, they have her and we don't," said Bearcat coach, and Hilo High graduate, Reed Sunahara.
There was more to it, as Sunahara would detail, but Willoughby was at her ubiquitous best yesterday for now.
"She hasn't reached her potential yet," Sunahara said. "She can jump. She's a good all-around player. She made digs back there when we thought we had kills and we were like, 'Oh my God.' She's killing us hitting and also killing us playing defense."
Willoughby has been the Wahine's first option this season "You can never set Kim too much, ever," according to UH setter Margaret Vakasausau and every time they got in trouble yesterday, she soared to pull them out.
"I thought she really had good command of her shots today," UH coach Dave Shoji said. "She only had two hitting errors, which she can do. That should be more normal for her as she goes on this season. She's had a high number of errors almost every other game. We've talked about it, and I think she understands she doesn't have to put every ball down. That's when she gets in trouble."
For this year's Wahine, that's balance. It was too much for the Bearcats, who came here unbeaten and go home 2-3, after losses to half of last year's final-four field and a five-game heartbreak against Utah State.
"We played better than we did the first two matches," Sunahara said, "but Hawai'i has too many weapons. Willoughby is tough, and everywhere you looked, somebody was attacking the ball.
"People say they're having problems, but they didn't have problems against us."
The Wahine worked their way through a bunch of hitting errors in the first game, tying it at 11 and finally breaking ahead 19-16 on a three-point surge with Melissa Villaroman serving. Vakasausau clinched it when she served four in a row a moment later, with Willoughby contributing two kills and a block.
Hawai'i hit .349 in that game, despite eight hitting errors, a high number that plagued them Friday. But in its final two games yesterday, it had but five errors and hit .453. Shoji used all 10 players in those games, with backup setter Jennifer Carey and Nohea Tano, a backup at every position, playing extensively.
For Cincinnati, things just got worse. The Bearcats lost the first four points of Game 2 and never caught up, with Willoughby going error-less. The Bearcats tied the third game at 9, then watched Willoughby bury four kills and a block in a 7-0 Wahine spurt. Soon after, Nikolic served six straight.
"I thought it was going to be a hard match to get up for," Shoji said. "But I really thought our team did a good job of preparing. That part was good.
"Obviously we need to get better, but we've got to be patient with the team and individuals. It's just not going to happen overnight."
For the match, Hawai'i outblocked Cincinnati 11-5. The Wahine also had 46 digs, compared to 31 for the Bearcats.
QUICK SETS: UH is now 20-1 in the Aston Imua Challenge. ... Hawai'i plays USC again Nov. 23 at the Bankers Classic in Stockton, Calif. ... The Wahine play Loyola Marymount on Friday and 16th-ranked Brigham Young on Saturday at Stan Sheriff Center. LMU and BYU play Thursday at 7 p.m. at SSC, with no admission charge.
All-Tournament Team: Most OutstandingKeao Burdine (USC). Becky Stahl (Cincinnati), Erin Cartwright (Utah State), April Ross (USC), Jennifer Pahl (USC), Maja Gustin (UH), Kim Willoughby (UH).