By Ann Miller
Advertiser Staff Writer
Time to heal is a luxury fourth-ranked Hawai'i doesn't have. This week's 18th annual Hawaiian Airlines Wahine Classic is looking a lot like the local version of last week's Volleyball Showcase.
The Rainbow Wahine crashed and burned in Omaha against top-ranked Nebraska and fifth-ranked Penn State. The Nittany Lions liked it so much they're back for more.
PSU opens the tournament tonight against seventh-ranked Southern California. Hawai'i gets the Trojans, who have won two of the past three NCAA championships, tomorrow and Penn State on Friday. UH plays Western Michigan on Sunday afternoon.
Coach Dave Shoji doesn't expect left-side hitter Sarah Mason to play at all this weekend, after spraining her right ankle in Friday's season-opener. Mason replaced Tara Hittle in the starting lineup after Hittle hurt her ankle Aug. 12. Hittle practiced for the first time Monday and might be well enough to play some backrow this week, according to Shoji.
He senses his players' mental health is better than its physical health.
"I think the players are fine," Shoji said. "Kids bounce back, they're not going to dwell on last week. Half an hour after, they were really not too worried about it. Fifty-eight-year-olds have a little more trouble."
Shoji came into his 31st year as Hawai'i's coach with an .853 winning percentage. His team is now on a three-match losing streak dating to last year. The focus this week is on stopping the slump and the flood of errors that buried the 'Bows last week.
"We threw away too many points and opportunities," Shoji said. "I was just disappointed in the way we let it go.
"We've got to be a little more aware of when to keep the ball in play and how to keep it in play. In Game 2 against Penn State, we probably gave them 10 points where they didn't have to do anything other than serve over the net."
The Trojans have an uncanny resemblance to Nebraska, utilizing a two-setter system that keeps three mostly huge hitters in the front row every rotation.
USC lost first-team All-Americans Kaeo Burdine and Emily Adams to graduation, but returns 6-foot-5 Bibiana Candelas. The star of the Mexican national team was a first-team All-American during 2003's national championship season.
Clearly, Hawai'i has to make dramatic strides in its homecoming.
"The big difference from last year is we played two really good teams last weekend and I don't think we played anybody that good last year," Shoji said. "The next few weeks we'll see some really, really good teams. Our schedule turned out to be favorable last year and we managed to win the close ones. We have to play better to have a chance now.
"We have to go right back out there and experience it again. Hopefully, we'll respond better."
The time of Sunday's match between Hawai'i and Western Michigan has been moved up an hour, to 4 p.m., to help WMU make its flight.
UH senior Victoria Prince was named to the AVCA/NACWAA Showcase All-Tournament Team last week. Nebraska's Christina Houghtelling was MVP. Also on the team were Cynthia Barboza (Stanford), Melissa Elmer (Nebraska), Christa Harmotto (Penn St.), Kristin Richards (Stanford) and Sam Tortorello (Penn St.).
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