Rainbow Wahine to play Texas today
By Ann Miller
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Ann Miller
AUSTIN, Texas — Seventh-ranked Hawai'i was hardly a world-beater in last night's first round of the NCAA Volleyball Championship. Fortunately for the Rainbow Wahine, they didn't have to beat the world, only Texas State.
They did that, 30-25, 30-18, 30-23, in just 90 minutes, for their 20th consecutive victory. It came before fewer than 300 spectators at Gregory Gym. The crowd grew more later (2,108) to see Texas sweep LSU, 30-19, 30-28, 30-26.
Tonight, Hawai'i (26-6) takes on the world — at least that is how the Longhorns are perceived on this part of the planet — when it plays Texas (24-4) at 2:30 p.m. HST. The winner of the second-round match advances to next week's Penn State regional.
The Longhorns, who upset top-ranked Nebraska a week ago, share No. 7 in the Coaches Poll with UH, but somehow did not get one of the 16 postseason seeds. LSU (21-8) is still trying to figure that out after having its best player — Jelena Mijatovic — hit for a negative percentage in its match, which lasted 10 minutes longer than Hawai'i's.
The Rainbows made short work of the Bobcats, but earned few style points.
"We have to control our emotions (today)," UH coach Dave Shoji said. "We were just running around and not playing very good volleyball as far as IQ — we were playing balls out, letting balls drop. It was not real smooth.
"We'll have to play our best match of the year if we're going to win tomorrow night (tonight). We've got to calm down and have a lot of intensity. Sometimes, it's hard to separate those two."
The Rainbow Wahine clearly couldn't last night. Texas State (17-15) struggled to get its hitting percentage into positive numbers in Game 1. It finally did on one of several Rainbow net violations and found itself tied at 15.
At that stage, Hawai'i's Victoria Prince, Juliana Sanders and Susie Boogaard were blasting the Bobcats, but the UH left sides were in a funk. Tara Hittle finally broke out, burying four of her final five swings to help the 'Bows pull away.
The most memorable part of Game 1 came late, when UH senior Ashley Watanabe broke Teee Williams' 17-year-old single-season record for digs. The 'Aiea graduate now has 442, five more than Williams. Watanabe broke her hand before last year's NCAA Tournament and finished four short.
"I think it's amazing, a great, great achievement," Prince said. "It shows so much about how, every single game that she plays, she pushes for every point. You have to do that to get that record. I think it's very honorable, very impressive to set that type of record."
The Rainbow Wahine would out-dig the Southland Conference champions 51-33 and out-block them 11-3, which explains much of the 250-point hitting difference (.356 to .102). Texas State, 0-5 in NCAA Tournament appearances, couldn't remember UH hitting a free ball.
"In our conference we don't see somebody hit the ball that hard every night," TSU coach Karen Chisum said. "We think we're pretty quick, but by the time we reacted the ball was already past."
Elizabeth Nwoke, one of two TSU seniors and its most potent offensive weapon, finished with six kills and hit zero. Freshman Lawrencia Brown was the lone bright spot with 13 kills and a .300 hitting percentage — 150 points higher than any of her teammates.
When Nwoke, who averages four kills a game, still couldn't get it going in the second game the result was no longer in doubt, even with UH giving the Bobcats half their points on errors. The Rainbow block made Nwoke's life miserable during her final match.
"I think she was trying to do too much with the ball," Chisum said. "I felt bad for Lizzy. She had a great weekend at the Southland Conference Tournament, but tonight she just never got into a rhythm."
Meanwhile, the Bobcats never came close to slowing Hawai'i's middles. They finished with 21 kills and hit .625, mostly going behind setter Kanoe Kamana'o, whose sets were too fast for the Bobcats to track down.
"We like the slide and Kanoe is the best setter I've seen at setting it, so we know it's going to work pretty well," Prince said. "And the passing on our side was great tonight. It all starts with the pass and the set, and when you're getting sets like that you can just bang line all day."
Sarah Mason, who has missed most of the last three weeks after reinjuring her ankle, played the right side at the end of Game 2 and started Game 3 on the left when Hittle switched to libero.
"We're not sure how we're going to play it tomorrow. I just wanted to see everybody out there," Shoji said. "I wanted to see Mason on the left and the right. It wasn't designed to confuse the other teams or have them wonder what we're going to do. We're not sure what we're going to do."
The Rainbow Wahine only know they have to do it better tonight.
"The coach was talking about our nerves," Watanabe said. "We'll settle down. We have to harness it now. I think tomorrow we'll be more into our game and just as excited."
Reach Ann Miller at email@example.com.