Rainbow Wahine rally to win in five
By Ann Miller
Advertiser Staff Writer
Hawai'i seniors Melody Eckmier and Teisa Fotu stepped off the bench and into a storybook finish last night.
Rebecca Breyer The Honolulu Advertiser
It was all smiles for UH seniors Teisa Fotu, left, and Melody Eckmier after a five-game victory in their final regular-season home match.
Rebecca Breyer The Honolulu Advertiser
The Rainbow Wahine (23-0, 13-0) willed their way to this one. While Nevada came at them with everything early, Hawai'i could simply hold on. It lost the first two games for the first time this season. But ultimately, Hawai'i's aura might have done in the Pack as much as talent and tenacity.
The 'Bows go into next week's WAC Tournament with a 103-match winning streak against conference opponents. Nevada has tried valiantly to end that this season, coming closer than anyone else to breaking Hawai'i's spell. All it has for its efforts is a pair of five-game heartbreaks.
The Wolf Pack (18-7, 10-3) had won its last 10 since coming within two points of beating UH six weeks ago. For the first hour last night, it buried the 'Bows in a haze of tough serves, soft shots and uncanny block coverage.
Hawai'i regrouped after its own heartbreak in Game 2 when it blew five game points and did what it has done best this year: Anything and everything it can to win.
Nov. 19-21 At Reno First Round (Hawai'i time) Hawai'i vs. SMU, 10 a.m.
First Round (Hawai'i time)
Hawai'i vs. SMU, 10 a.m.
"I think we got a little too comfortable being up two-zero and instead of attacking and being aggressive in Game 3. We played not to lose instead of playing to win," Nevada coach Devin Scruggs said. "They just played steady, they didn't change anything. We're the ones who changed for some stupid reason."
Hawai'i's outside hitters were the most obvious elements of victory. Alicia Arnott (25 kills) and Susie Boogaard (17) made the most of what resulted from often poor passing. But, as in the previous 22 wins, every Rainbow Wahine had a part in this.
Kanoe Kamana'o fired up hittable sets under bad circumstances, and spent her off time making spectacular digs. Victoria Prince kept blocking balls until the passing steadied out enough to get her offense in the game. Freshman Tara Hittle's play lit little fires under her older teammates.
And seniors Melody Eckmier and Teisa Fotu came in right on cue in the third game. It was no coincidence that Eckmier's presence coincided with the Pack hitting .085 in the games UH won. Or that the Hawai'i passing improved immensely under Fotu's steady hand.
"In a match like that you need to side out," explained UH associate coach Charlie Wade. "We have to pass the ball better to get Victoria involved in the offense. It's not kick-them-in-the-mouth like it used to be with Kim (Willoughby) and Lily (Kahumoku). We have to pass the ball to let Kanoe do what Kanoe does well, and that's get everyone involved."
Scruggs also pointed to Hawai'i's serving as a compelling factor in her team's defeat. The 'Bows drilled eight aces to Nevada's two, and kept the Pack offense at bay in the final 90 minutes of the 2-hour, 39-minute match.
Still, it was hard to tell if Hawai'i overcame Nevada as much as Nevada overcame itself.
"I didn't see the killer instinct that I wanted to see," said Scruggs, who starts just one senior. "I think we were hoping they would just let us win versus having that killer instinct to go for it. You've got to learn that. We're learning as we go."
The Rainbows must have learned it vicariously. Despite six new starters this season, they have yet to lose on the court or their faith in each other.
"It's a nice characteristic of the team that as the match evolves we start getting better," Wade says. "The passing did get better, the hitters did start attacking smarter, the defense did become more effective. That's really all you can hope for."
Salaia Salave'a led the Pack with 21 kills and seven stuffs. She started the night by drilling the 'Bows first bad pass, which came on the first serve. The passing problems would be a persistent problem, as they were in Nevada six weeks ago. It took Hawai'i nine serves to get its first kill as the Pack blew to a 10-4 advantage.
The roller coaster ride had begun. It took its most radical turn at the end of Game 2, when Nevada erased five game points. Then, the Pack's dream of their biggest win in history went up in the Manoa smoke. Its only chance at redemption came deep in the fourth game, when it staggered out of a 5-13 hole to pull ahead 19-17.
The Rainbows caught a break and their breath on a missed serve. They scored the next four on two Salave'a misses, a shank and a Prince kill that ended a brilliant rally. Their 22-19 advantage lasted three serves. Nevada was back again and tied it on Carly Sorensen's 13th kill.
Only this time, Hawai'i wasn't letting go.
There would be three more ties before the Rainbow Wahine scored five of the last six points to take it to a fifth game.
"I think they really like playing us," Wade said. "We have kind of been the 300-pound gorilla in the conference and they're looking at us and going, 'You know what? There's not a big difference between us.' Obviously their coach has them thinking they can win the match and they're coming very close. And they play hard, the whole time."
Coach: UH coach Dave Shoji left immediately after the match for the hospital, to be with his ailing father, Kobe.
Tournament: Hawai'i, which clinched its ninth straight WAC regular-season title earlier, will play eighth-seeded Southern Methodist on Monday. The first-round WAC Tournament match will be played Friday at Nevada's Virginia Street Gym. First serve is tentatively scheduled for 10 a.m. Hawai'i time. The WAC Tournament runs Friday to Sunday, with the championship scheduled for 1 p.m. HST next Sunday.
Extended: Nevada is the first WAC team to take Hawai'i to five games twice in a season.
Reach Ann Miller at firstname.lastname@example.org or 525-8043.