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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, November 15, 2002

Rainbow Wahine must step to next level

By Ann Miller
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawai'i's loss to Stanford is now referred to around the volleyball program as "what happened Sunday." The night went downhill for the Rainbow Wahine the moment Don Ho sang "Tiny Bubbles" before the match.

Third-ranked Hawai'i (23-1) now has a loss and has lost its aura of invincibility. What happens next is what matters.

The 'Bows' new beginning starts tonight in California against Fresno State, the WAC's next-best team. Their 69-match conference winning streak is intact as is their image as WAC bully.

But no one is looking at the Rainbow Wahine quite the same, including the Rainbow Wahine.

"We learned we need to play at a higher level," UH senior Jennifer Carey said. "We made way too many mental errors against Stanford. The film pointed out a lot of places we just didn't follow our assignments. Against a good team, you can't do that.

"It's not like we've played a team the caliber of Stanford, but that's not an excuse. There are still plays that needed to be made and we didn't do that. That's our fault."

Shoji agrees with his players that much of what went wrong Sunday was on them. There were too many blown assignments, far too many "little things" that went wrong and three games rife with "bad decisions."

But there was also Stanford sophomore Oganna Nnamani, with her 19 kills and 63 percent hitting. When the Cardinal played an exhibition here in April, Hawai'i adjusted to Nnamani after the first game, holding her below .100 in the final three.

Sunday, the Rainbows never made the adjustment. Shoji plans to spend much more practice time on "diversifying" his block these final weeks of the season.

"We need to be able to handle someone that is really, really physical — like Oganna," Shoji says. "I'm guessing that was probably the best match of her life, but maybe it wasn't.

"It's debatable if this is fix-able or not. It's like trying to stop Lily (Kahumoku) or Kim (Willoughby). No matter what you do, sometimes you can't match up physically. But obviously we've got to try something."

His most promising option is that Maja Gustin's improvement in the middle will progress rapidly as she gets healthy. She has only played full time the past four matches, after suffering a stress fracture in her foot. Last year, she didn't play in the middle at all because of Kahumoku's absence.

As a freshman, Gustin was an all-region middle and one of the WAC's most intimidating players.

"Maja's improvement might be subtle things," Shoji says, "but still, she can do a lot better."

He also will experiment with Karin Lundqvist on the right side next week. Lundqvist, who started for Gustin the first 20 matches, suffered a torn ACL in her left knee two weeks ago. She can't play the middle or back row, where she would have to change direction, but she wants to try hitting and says she is in no pain.

While the Rainbow Wahine could feel their fans' deep disappointment Sunday, they insist their confidence is not shaken. They had chances to win the first two games and did not execute. They had rarely faced that problem earlier. Now they know what they are up against.

"I feel good, but we know what we have to work on," junior Melissa Villaroman says. "We made little simple mistakes. If we fix those, we've got 'em. I'm pretty excited to go into the playoffs because we've seen the competition now. We know what's out there."

QUICK SETS: Tonight's match at Fresno and tomorrow's at San Jose State will be broadcast live on 1420 AM, beginning at 4:45 p.m.