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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, August 30, 2002

Wahine reaching new heights

By Ann Miller
Advertiser Staff Writer

By Sunday, the coaching foursome playing through this year's Hawaiian Airlines Wahine Volleyball Classic will have 2,200 victories.

Kim Willoughby, left, and Lily Kahumoku will provide most of the firepower for the Rainbow Wahine offense.

Eugene Tanner • The Honolulu Advertiser

The coaches agree on at least two things: The other guys are getting older and athletes are getting better.

"You look at a team like Hawai'i and it can beat a lot of the men's teams from back when I was playing," claims sixth-year Colorado coach Pi'i Aiu, a 1981 Kamehameha Schools graduate who is the baby of this coaching bunch.

UCLA's Andy Banachowski is the game's winningest coach, at 919-221 going into his 36th year. He put an ad in the Daily Bruin his first year to scare up bodies, then brought in intramural players who "wanted to have a little more."

He calls the advent of scholarships the most dramatic difference in the game, and the reason the sport attracted such large numbers. Ultimately, that translated into a higher level of athleticism.

Players are bigger and better now. There are more good athletes in more areas of the country getting much more sophisticated training. They're changing the game even while it's changing from within, introducing rally scoring last year and the libero this season.

Hawai'i coach Dave Shoji —770-145 going into his 28th year — said that, "physically," his 1979 national championship team would "struggle to beat anybody in the Top 20 now." He qualifies the comparison by introducing intangibles, beginning with "heart."

That is where Ohio State coach Jim Stone ends his discussion on changes in the game.

Stone, 409-229 in his 21st year, looks forward optimistically, but can't help fondly remembering his early years. Banachowski and Shoji understand what he's talking about — better than most.

"I liked the way kids played 20 years ago," Stone says. "There was a lot of passion and heart. You didn't have all the scholarships and the number of quality programs so kids were certainly playing out of a love for the game. I feel like some kids don't play with the same heart and passion now. I miss that."

College volleyball

• What: Hawaiian Airlines Wahine Classic

• Today:

UCLA vs. Colorado, 5 p.m.

Ohio State vs. Hawai'i, 7 p.m.

• Tomorrow:

Colorado vs. Ohio State, 2 p.m.

• Sunday:

UCLA vs. Ohio State, 3 p.m.

Colorado vs. Hawai'i, 5 p.m.

• Monday:

UCLA vs. Hawai'i, 5 p.m.

• Where: Stan Sheriff Center

Classic capsules:

• No. 4 Hawai'i (29-6 in 2001)

Starters: SiMargaret Vakasausau (5-8 Sr.), MBiMaja Gustin (6-3 Jr.) and Lauren Duggins (6-0 Jr.), LSiKim Willoughby (6-0 Jr.) and Lily Kahumoku (6-2 Jr.), RSiNohea Tano (5-11 Jr.).

Outlook: Every starter returns. ... Look out for All-Americans on left side. Willoughby averaged more than 7 kills a game last year — fourth-best in NCAA history — and led UH in every match but one. Kahumoku is also coming off a brilliant season, but it was 2000. ... Look closely at the middle and right, which need to become more of an offensive and blocking threat. Gustin, 10th nationally in blocking two years ago, is back in her natural position after an all-conference season on the left side. ... Team returns seven all-conference players and three all-region. ... Melissa Villaroman beat out Hedder Ilustre, the only defender on the 2001 all-WAC first team, for the new libero position.

What's different: "The level of dedication they had over the spring and summer," coach Dave Shoji says. "They came back a lot better. Teams usually do, but I think every person on this team is better. That's not always the case."

• No. 9 Ohio State (27-4)

Starters: SiKatie Virtue (5-9 Sr.), MBiStephanie Higgins (6-0 Fr.) and Suzie Stiling (6-1 Sr.), LSiStacey Gordon (5-11 So.) and Maria Pongonis (6-0 Fr.) or Anna Andersson (5-11 Fr.), RSiShelly Draeger (5-11 Sr.)

Outlook: Picked to win Big Ten after placing second last year. ... Five conference teams are ranked in the Top 20. ... Gordon was 2001 national Freshman of the Year, averaging nearly 5 kills and 3 digs. ... Virtue was No. 1 nationally in assists last season. ... Four starters return, creating a solid base with proven setting and hitters who rarely get cheated on a swing. ... Gordon, Stiling and Virtue are all-Big Ten. ... Draeger had two 7-ace matches last year.

What's different: "We have eight freshmen on the roster," coach Jim Stone says, "so practices are unique. We're not playing well yet, we have too many rookies. We're just looking for consistent play here. Hopefully, by the end of September we'll be competitive. This week, this team will be a mystery to us as well as everybody else."

• No. 11 UCLA (21-9)

Starters: SiKrystal McFarland (5-10 So.), MBiCira Wright (6-0 Jr.) and Angela Eckmier (6-2 Sr.), LSiLauren Fendrick (6-3 Sr.) and Heather Cullen (6-1 So.), RSiBrittany Ringel (6-1 So.) or Brynn Murphy (5-10 So.).

Outlook: Beat Hawai'i for first time in four years to win sixth Classic championship last season. Ended UH season in regional semifinal. ...ÊLost three seniors who were four-year starters, including All-America Kristee Porter. ... Bruins are bigger and more balanced, but less experienced and athletic this year. ... Fendrick was all-Pac-10 last year, averaging nearly 4 kills. ... Eckmier, older sister of UH sophomore Melody, hit .455 and stuffed 8 balls against Rainbows in regional. ... Picked to finish fourth in conference, behind top-six teams Stanford, USC and Arizona. ... Sophomore libero Chrissie Zartman won gold medal in beach volleyball at World University Games and was second at FIVB 21-under World Championships.

What's different: "With three four-year starters (last year), there was a comfort level for me, knowing what type of performance I would get from those players," coach Andy Banachowski says. "Now we've got a couple of seniors playing and doing a great job, but the real core of the team is the sophomore class and they're just young. I'll say immature. Not in a bad way. They just haven't developed yet."

No. 21 Colorado (19-11)

Starters: SiElizabeth Gower (6-1 Sr.), MBiMeghan Barkman (6-2 Sr.) and Monique Gerlach (5-11 Jr.), LSiKim Taskey (5-11 Sr.) and Sara Fredrickson (6-0 Sr.), RSiMaragda Santillana (6-4 Fr.).

Outlook: Return three starters, but all suffered injuries in the offseason. ... Gower is two-time all-region setter. As freshman she played right side. She is CU's career leader in triple-doubles, with eight, and had 10 kills or more seven times last season. ... Barkman and Gerlach were all-conference last season. ... Barkman, also an all-region selection, is CU's career leader in blocks. ... Gerlach is career leader in attack percentage (.331) and, last year, became the first CU middle to lead team in kills. ... Santillana, from Spain, is tallest player in program history.

What's different: "Our injury situation could turn the season down really quickly," coach Pi'i Aiu says. "The key to our season is how healthy our returning starters stay."