Rainbows sweep San Jose
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By Ann Miller
Advertiser Staff Writer
Never has a crowd so desperately wanted to see a volleyball match end.
Second-ranked Hawai'i treated a tenacious San Jose State team like an uninvited guest last night, finally closing out the Spartans 30-25, 30-24, 30-27 so the soldout Stan Sheriff Center crowd could have what it so impatiently waited for all night.
That would be the opportunity to celebrate what could be the final home match for the Rainbow Wahine's seven seniors Kim Willoughby, Melissa Villaroman, Nohea Tano, Karin Lundqvist, Lily Kahumoku, Maja Gustin and Lauren Duggins. They have lifted UH into two final fours at least and a 122-11 record the past four seasons.
All had family come in from as far as Europe, Alabama and Louisiana and onto the court at the bittersweet end. "You won't see anything like this anywhere else in the world," said Gustin's step-father Joze Gricnik, who came from Slovenia.
"Karin said this was a big deal," recalled sister Anna Lundqvist. "I had no idea it was this big."
The traditionally tear-filled Senior Night was shockingly dry at the end for a variety of reasons:
With their 26-match winning streak and fifth consecutive unbeaten conference season, the Rainbow Wahine (27-1, 13-0 WAC) have every right to believe they will be back home for the NCAA Tournament's first and second rounds Dec. 4 and 5.
"There's still an opportunity for people to come watch us," Shoji said. "Hopefully we'll have two or more playoff games here. I'm sure everybody knows it's not really over."
A few of the seniors shed their tears early, before the huge video scoreboard was dropped and the official celebration began. The players formed a tunnel and sent each senior out after her introduction. All seven brought a volleyball to fling, kick and dink into the crowd as their way of "giving something back."
"Kim was starting to cry when I took her flowers out," said Ronald Willoughby, the All-American's brother. "I told her she better stop because I was starting to cry."
"I'll tell you a secret," Lundqvist said. "We all cried before."
After the introductions, which included the full pronunciation of Kahumoku's 219-letter middle name written out with 55 breaks by announcer Ben Kia'aina the senior video was played with upbeat music in the background.
Who could cry after that?
"The highlight of the night," UH associate coach Charlie Wade said, "was the end of the video, when they showed each of them just smiling."
Practically from the time the Rainbow Wahine came out in new, striped, knee socks it was clear San Jose State (8-17, 6-7) would become their 87th straight WAC victim. It was evident that the Spartans had no means of hurting Hawai'i, other than Kimberly Noble, who had a third of her 15 kills before the first game was half over. She was outdone only by Willoughby, who finished with 21.
SJSU, with only one player over 6 feet, also had no way of slowing the 'Bows. At times, Hawai'i looked as if it was taking target practice on Carrie Nash. Gustin blasted Nash in the shoulder and Willoughby launched a rocket that mercifully landed between Nash's feet. Duggins and Tano bounced a block off the top of Nash's head. Near the end, Tano lined a ball straight at Noble, who caught it.
So, despite shaky passing, little blocking and some serious gaffes, the countdown to the senior celebration began about 7:30 p.m. By the time it actually started 80 minutes later, all 9,511 fans were beyond prepared. They stood up for match point, then sat back down to enjoy what they were there for, getting up many more times before it was over.
"It gave me a good perspective on what I've been hearing for the last four years," said Villaroman's sister, Kathy.
Their mother, Elizabeth, struggled to articulate what she had just seen, saying only, "I'm speechless."
The seniors knew it was something they would never see again.
"It's not something you can replace," Tano said. "You just always remember it."
A night earlier she had watched the state high school championships from arena seats. She hated the view.
"It hit me that it's very hard to watch," Tano said. "I don't think I'm going to make the first match next year."
Hawai'i hopes that is a long way away. The WAC Tournament is this week and the NCAA Tournament bracket will be announced after it plays at UNLV over Thanksgiving. The Rainbow Wahine want to be back for home soon after.
"When I came onto the court, Lauren said, 'Isn't this an awesome feeling down here?' " recalled Duggins' mother Deb. "Then she said, 'It's pretty awesome to play on too.' "
QUICK SETS: Hawai'i will play No. 8 seed Tulsa in the opening round of the WAC Tournament Friday at Reno. ... Tickets go on sale Monday for the NCAA regional to be held at the Stan Sheriff Center Dec. 12 and 13.
Reach Ann Miller at email@example.com or 525-8043.