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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Sunday, August 24, 2003

No. 1 USC sweeps UH

By Ann Miller
Advertiser Staff Writer

UH's Lily Kahumoku tried to split the USC block of Keao Burdine, left, and Bibiano Candelas in last night's match.

Eugene Tanner • The Honolulu Advertiser

Defending NCAA champion and top-ranked Southern California swatted away second-ranked Hawai'i, 30-22, 30-26, 31-29, last night to win the season-opening State Farm Volleyball Classic.

The final was watched by 8,917 at Stan Sheriff Center. The result was not what most wanted to see.

The Trojans, who basically have their entire starting lineup back, exploited every Hawai'i weakness and brought back memories of the only two matches the Rainbow Wahine lost last year. USC stuffed UH into a .109 hitting percentage, out-blocked the 'Bows 14-5 and stifled everybody but All-American Kim Willoughby (21 kills).

But the most discouraging element of this first weekend for Hawai'i was the way the Trojans owned the final moments of each game.

"It's very disappointing that we couldn't convert," UH coach Dave Shoji said. "The easy plays we could not convert. That was the difference in each game. Bad pass, over-pass, hit out ... you're trying to get a rhythm going and you just kill your own rhythm. That's aside from the team on the other side of the net being a great team."

The Trojans' huge roof choked off the Hawai'i attack early and never let All-American Lily Kahumoku — often staring up at a towering block — into the match. She hit negative .091 and still was second on the team in kills.

"We need to be more confident, more assertive," Kahumoku said. "There was a lot of pressure. That affected us in the sense that we were so overwhelmed at making everything perfect and going out there and executing.

"I got blocked off the court tonight due to trying to create angles I can usually get away with. But you have a 6-5 blocker and another 6-6 and huge right-side blockers ... I have to open up some more shots."

Hawai'i still could have, and maybe should have, won one of the final games.

It took an advantage deep into the second (23-20) behind Willoughby, who simply climbed over the USC block. The Trojans grabbed the game with an impeccable finish. In the third, the Rainbows rallied to take their first lead at 28-27 and served for the game at 29-28. USC All-American April Ross denied them with a back-row kill and the Trojans served out the match.

"There was never a doubt," Ross said. "We just had to figure out a way to win. Our wheels are always turning."

Five Trojans had at least seven kills, a reminder of the depth and balance they return from last season. Ross was named tournament MVP, with Willoughby and Kahumoku on the all-tournament team.

It was a hollow honor. Hawai'i scored the first three points of the match, got an adoring crowd going with spectacular defense, then completely lost its offense at 13-all in Game 1.

The Rainbow Wahine wouldn't have a kill for another 18 serves, falling behind 25-18. Their only points came on three missed serves and two Keao Burdine hitting errors.

Willoughby finally ended the offensive drought, from the back row, but Hawai'i's hitting woes were not over. It didn't get another kill the rest of the game and they would come infrequently after. The team that finished first in the country in kills, hitting percentage and assists last year, hit negative .033 against the Trojans' endless supply of 6-foot-and-over blockers in Game 1. The Trojans missed six serves, hit just .208 and won going away.

The Rainbow Wahine didn't let that happen again, but they couldn't execute when it counted the rest of the night. When it was over, Shoji, Kahumoku and Willoughby — two of his seven seniors — promised it would not happen again.

"I think a lot of what went wrong was with our veteran players and I thought that was a good thing," said Shoji, who has all but one starter back from last year's final-four team. "I've got a lot of confidence in the veteran players who did not play well tonight. They will not play like that again. They will come back and be much better for this game."

If you listen to Willoughby, they better be.

"Before it was always, 'OK, that's acceptable, we're going to make it better,' " she said. "For me, from now on, anything we keep doing over and over again is unacceptable. Those mistakes we made ... that's why they won and we didn't. I'm not going to be the nice person about it anymore. I'm just going to go hard and I'm expecting my team to do all of it right."

Second-ranked Florida (1-1) won the consolation match, defeating 15th-ranked Kansas State (0-2), 30-16, 30-26, 29-31, 30-22.

All-Tournament Team MVP — April Ross (USC), Lauren Goehring (K-State), Benavia Jenkins (Florida), Aury Cruz (Florida), Lily Kahumoku (Hawai'i), Keao Burdine (USC), Kim Willoughby (Hawai'i).

QUICK SETS: Last night's championship will be shown Sept. 2, at 8:30 a.m. HST, on ESPN2. ... Lily Kahumoku is eighth on Hawai'i's career kill list, behind three-time All-American Deitre Collins. If Kahumoku matches last year's total of 569 she would finish her career with more then 1,900 kills. That would also break Teee Williams' career mark of 1,873, which Kim Willoughby surpassed Friday to become the school's all-time leader. ...Bonnee Burdine, the sister of USC junior Keao Burdine, played volleyball for Hawai'i Pacific. The Burdines have relatives in Hawai'i.