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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, December 11, 2002

Duggins, Gustin unsung heroes in UH's title chase

By Ann Miller
Advertiser Staff Writer

In a Hawai'i volleyball world where "Lily" and "Kim" need no last-name introduction, middle blockers Lauren Duggins and Maja Gustin can be the invisible women.

Hawai'i's Lauren Duggins is among the nation's leaders in hitting percentage and blocks. She's quietly having a solid season and UH is touting her as an All-American.

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But if they were gone, the Rainbow Wahine would miss them. And the All-America hitters formerly known as Kahumo-ku and Willoughby would miss them desperately.

Hawai'i's outsides verify all their accolades every time they go up against two or three blockers and the ball still goes down. But even they need someone to take the pressure off occasionally. That is particularly apparent in the postseason, which continues for the Rainbows Friday, against North Carolina, in the Central Regional at Lincoln, Neb.

The opponents now are bigger and better. Hawai'i needs Duggins and Gustin to get blockers to commit to them, or even cast a glance their way. If that happens, there is a seam in the block and the outsides can beat that nearly every time.

"They just have to delay the block a half second, a micro second," UH coach Dave Shoji says of his middles. "If they have the middle blockers still moving when Kim and Lily hit, their percentage goes way up."

Willoughby and Kahumoku are both hitting around .350, extraordinarily high for outsides who usually see the high "4 set" that draws multiple blockers. They have taken nearly 60 percent of Hawai'i's swings.

In Shoji's eyes, they cannot see too many sets and Duggins and Gustin cannot be too efficient. If they see a set, they better bury it and, especially lately, they have. Both are hitting around .400 with 2 1/2 kills a game.

NCAA tournament

• What: Central Regional semifinal

• Who: Hawai'i (32-1) vs. North Carolina (32-3)

• When: Friday, 1 p.m. Hawai'i time

• Where: Lincoln, Neb.

• TV: Live on K5

• Radio: Live on on 1420-AM

"The '4' set is never a bad idea," UH setter Margaret Vakasausau says. "People say it's high and slow and there are two blockers on them, but we repeatedly hear from Dave that '4' is never a bad set. Those are two All-Americans out there, they're smart hitters. It's picking off the middle at the right time that is going to be key. We have to make sure we give them a good ball to hit so they can put it away. It sounds bad, but the few sets they do get they need to put away."

Since the WAC Tournament, Duggins and Gustin have been terminating at a terrific rate, averaging nearly three kills a game and hitting almost .500. In the first round against Western Kentucky they went a combined 17-for-30 without an error.

Duggins, who is hitting .405 for the season, has climbed into the national rankings in hitting percentage and blocking. Last month, against Nevada, she had 22 kills, 11 blocks and hit .814.

"She's playing really well, making smart plays," setter Jennifer Carey says. "If the set isn't there, instead of whaling it out she's keeping it in and sometimes it goes down for a kill. She's really expanded her repertoire. She has the quick shot, the roll shot, the hard hit. She also makes herself available. She's not late, not early, she's right where you need her."

Gustin is finally closing on her devastating freshman form. She was an all-region selection then, but was forced to play outside last year and missed the first half of this season with an injured foot. When she first came back, she still couldn't hit her favorite set — the "slide" behind the setter — because she couldn't launch off her left foot.

Now, clearly, she can.

"It can be effective to where nobody can stop it," Vakasausau says. "She's back where Maja was as a freshman. Maja can hold blockers and when that happens it's pretty much over. If the blocker delays, Lily and Kim will hit seam all day. That's their money shot."

In the chill of Lincoln, these invisible women might hold the Rainbow Wahine's final-four hopes in their overlooked hands. They anchor the block and offer the offense its only real wrinkle.

They also play under relatively unrealistic expectations. When they see a set, they are expected to kill it almost without exception. If it's late in the game, there are no exceptions. Gustin and Duggins both were set at critical times against Washington last week. They never missed and for that, Carey and Vakasausau are extremely thankful.

"I told the setters if they choose to go to the middle then it better go down," Shoji recalled. "Otherwise, it's a bad set no matter what."

QUICK SETS: Nebraska Educational Television will produce and KFVE will air Friday's regional semifinal between Hawai'i and North Carolina live at 1 p.m. HST. The match will be rebroadcast at 7 p.m. HST by KFVE. ... If Hawai'i wins that semifinal, it will play in the regional final Saturday against the winner of Nebraska-Miami. ESPN will produce that match and it may also be picked up by a local station. Details will be available later this week. ... Kailua High graduate Howard Wallace, Creighton's winningest volleyball coach, resigned yesterday. He compiled a 68-94 record in six seasons and shared Missouri Valley Conference Coach of the Year honors in 1997. Prior to taking the Creighton job, Wallace was an assistant with Hawai'i for nine years. ... This year's final four semifinals, on Thursday, Dec. 19, will begin at 6 p.m. and approximately 8:30 CST. The championship on Saturday, Dec. 21, will start at 2:30 p.m. CST in the New Orleans Arena. ... UH junior Kim Willoughby now trails Teee Williams, the program's career kills leader, by fewer than 100. Willoughby has 1,777 kills in her three seasons. Williams had 1,873 in her three-year career. ... North Carolina hosted a sub-regional last week. Ticket prices were $10 for adults for an all-session pass. Tickets prices in Hawai'i were $22.

• • •

NCAA regionals

Hawai'i times

  • West Regional, at Santa Barbara, Calif.



  • Southern California (27-1) vs. Michigan State (21-11), 3 p.m.
  • UC Santa Barbara (30-2) vs. Pepperdine (25-6), 5 p.m.



  • Southern California-Michigan State winner vs. UC Santa Barbara-Pepperdine winner, 5 p.m.
  • East Regional, at Gainesville, Fla.



  • Washington State (23-7) vs. Northern Iowa (34-2), noon
  • Florida (32-2) vs. Temple (28-6), 30 minutes after first game ends



  • Washington State-Northern Iowa winner vs. Florida-Temple winner, 11 a.m.
  • Central Regional, at Lincoln, Neb.



  • North Carolina (32-3) vs. Hawai'i (32-1), 1 p.m.
  • Nebraska (29-1) vs. Miami, Fla. (27-5), 3 p.m.



  • North Carolina-Hawai'i winner vs. Nebraska-Miami, Fla. winner, 3 p.m.
  • Pacific Regional, at Stanford, Calif.



  • Minnesota (32-5) vs. Arizona (19-11), 3 p.m.
  • Stanford (29-4) vs. Ohio State (21-10), 5:30 p.m.



  • Minnesota-Arizona winner vs. Stanford-Ohio State winner, 7 p.m.
  • National Final Four, at New Orleans Arena

Dec. 19


  • Regional winners

Dec. 21


  • Semifinal winners