It couldn't get much sweeter
By Ann Miller
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Ann Miller
AUSTIN, Texas — Hawai'i and Texas share the No. 7 ranking in the Coaches Poll and will break the tie tonight in what both are characterizing as a not-so-Sweet-16 showdown in the NCAA Volleyball Championship.
It is a second-round match with all the trappings of the third round, or Sweet 16, right down to the depth of the disappointment one team will feel when its season ends in Gregory Gym.
The Rainbow Wahine (26-6) have won their last 20 and were seeded seventh by the NCAA Committee, yet traveled 4,000 miles for their subregional. They are attempting to reach their 22nd regional, and eighth in a row.
The Longhorns (24-4) upset then-unbeaten Nebraska a week ago here. The Cornhuskers still got the tournament's No. 1 seed and, somehow, the 'Horns weren't worthy of even the 16th. They did get to host, for the 17th time. Texas is 33-7 in home NCAA matches, and have won 28 of its last 29 at Gregory.
"We've moved forward from the selection," said UT coach Jerritt Elliott, who played for the Rainbow Warriors in 1990 before hurting his knee. "We feel like this will be a Sweet 16-type match. It should have been."
Elliott has one senior (basketball player Heather Schreiber), who rarely plays, and lost 60 percent of his offense from last year. Still, he believes this team might be better than the one that lost in the 2004 Green Bay Regional to Stanford, while Hawai'i was falling in five to Wisconsin.
Certainly, it is bigger, averaging a national-best 6 foot 1 1/2.
The Longhorns lean on their middle attack and UH coach Dave Shoji said they run the slide play as well as any team he has seen. LSU couldn't touch Brandy Magee (12 for 22) last night. Shoji is also concerned about their block after the Nebraska upset, and watching Texas' tallest player, 6-5 freshman Lauren Paolin, stuff LSU's best player (Jelena Mijatovic).
But some think this match might come down to the smallest front-row player, 5-6 Kanoe Kamana'o, the 'Bows' All-America setter.
"Hawai'i's setter is going to have to take over and she's certainly done that the last several years now," LSU coach Fran Flory said. "A lot will depend on her decision-making.
"Texas has such a big, physical block. She has to create some great opportunities."
Kamana'o has done it before. Whether that, and Hawai'i's ballhandling, can overcome the brute force of the Longhorns is the crucial question tonight.
UH has won nine of the 10 matches between the teams. The loss came in the 1988 national championship.
"The two teams are very similar in terms of balance and it's going to make for a great matchup," Elliott said. "I'm glad the Hawai'i fans get to see it because I know the rest of the country would like to."
Cornell, coached by former Rainbow Wahine All-American Deitre Collins, was swept by Long Island in the first round last night at Penn State. The second-seeded Nittany Lions swept Binghampton, allowing just 33 points.
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