Rainbow Wahine shocked over draw
By Ann Miller
Advertiser Staff Writer
Volleyball logic got lost somewhere over the Pacific Ocean yesterday.
The top-ranked University of Hawai'i, the country's only unbeaten team, will be in Fort Collins, Colo., for a first-round NCAA Championship match Thursday against Colorado. The Rainbow Wahine (28-0) will not play another match this year in front of their sport's largest by far and most loyal crowds.
"We were ready for the worst-case scenario and we got it," said UH coach Dave Shoji, in a rare show of anger. "We have to travel to a tough site. I really can't believe any rationale that puts us at Colorado State. I don't understand it. ... There is nothing worse that could happen."
UH was seeded third, after Nebraska (27-1) and Penn State (27-2). If it beats the Buffs (14-13), it advances to a second-round match Friday against host Colorado State (26-3) or Purdue (16-14). That winner goes to a regional in Green Bay, Wis.
The temperature in Fort Collins when the seedings were announced was 19 degrees, with wind chill lowering it to 12 and up to 2 inches of snow expected. Green Bay was 31 degrees yesterday.
The No. 3 seeding was not a huge surprise. The NCAA committee seeds the Top 16 teams based on its own power-rating formula. Hawai'i has not defeated a team ranked among the top 12 of last week's USA Today/CSTV coaches' poll.
It could get its first chance this week. Colorado State is ranked ninth and clobbered 19th-ranked Utah for the Mountain West Conference championship. The Rams were not seeded by the NCAA, nor were Colorado or Purdue, but Shoji characterized CSU and the Boilermakers as "legitimate Top-20 teams," and called his team's sub-regional "ridiculously" difficult.
"We'd probably have been better off losing six or seven matches," he said. "We'd have got a better draw."
Sharon K. Cessna, the NCAA's director of championships, said yesterday that the committee felt it was doing Hawai'i "a favor" by keeping it in the middle of the country (not sending it farther east) and placing it in the bracket "best" for it. The other seeds in the Rainbows' quadrant are Texas (6), Stanford (11) and Wisconsin (14).
The committee has used "geographical proximity" as a primary reason for decisions since 9/11 three years ago. In 2001, less than three months after the terrorist attacks, ninth-seeded Hawai'i had to travel to Pullman, Wash., to play unseeded host Washington State in the first round. A year later, second-ranked UH was seeded sixth and sent to Nebraska for a regional.
That year, at least, the only women's program in the country that generates volleyball revenue remained home the first week. UH averaged nearly 7,000 fans a match this season.
"This is much more shocking than being sent out to Nebraska," Shoji said. "I just can't even fathom a reason that they wouldn't send three teams (to Hawai'i). The disappointing thing is we deserved it. We had an unbelievable season. What does that tell you about teams being deserving?"
Hawai'i won in Pullman and Lincoln, playing its best volleyball of the season. Shoji says this team will also draw incentive from its situation. He craves "a long road trip" that will take UH through the final four in Long Beach, Calif. (Dec. 16 and 18).
His players bounced back from their shock remarkably quickly. Melody Eckmier, one of only two seniors, said she was deeply disappointed she would never again play in Hawai'i. From that moment on, all the Rainbow Wahine talked about was making the best of the bad situation the NCAA had forced upon them.
"I couldn't believe it," Alicia Arnott said. "I didn't even think that (traveling the first week) was an option. When you're the only undefeated team in the nation you should at least get to host the first and second round.
"I think it will take about 10 minutes to get over it because it's kind of a shock. Then, you just know it's volleyball no matter where we are. We'll be fine. ... We find a way. We always pull together."
Kanoe Kamana'o, the lone returning starter from last year's final-four team, said the situation only helped motivate UH.
"They can stick us wherever they want to," she said. "We can perform just as we have been."
Shoji also felt his team would rise to the chilly occasion.
"It's definitely a challenge," he said, "and they've met every challenge so in that sense I think it's not a negative."
Reach Ann Miller at email@example.com or 525-8043.