Competition for starting role heats up
By Brandon Masuoka
Advertiser Staff Writer
One of the most difficult athletic feats at the University of Hawai'i may be breaking into the starting lineup of the 11th-ranked Rainbow Wahine volleyball team.
Heavy competition has coach Dave Shoji sorting out logjams at key positions — most recently at left-side hitter, which is usually considered the most reliable hitter in the Hawai'i offense and often gets the most hitting opportunities.
This week, Shoji challenged his players to make the most of their playing time as conference-leader Hawai'i (11-6, 5-0) starts its second Western Athletic Conference road trip at Idaho (10-8, 2-3) today and Boise State (4-8, 0-5) on Saturday.
"That's just the way things are on our team," Shoji said. "You gotta play and you gotta perform when you're out there. If you don't, someone else comes in."
In the past two matches, junior transfer Sarah Mason has started at left-side hitter in place of WAC first-team selection Alicia Arnott, who is also a junior.
In WAC matches, Mason has been spectacular, hitting .442 and averaging 4.80 kills, 1.73 digs and 0.67 blocks per game. She was the WAC Player of the Week last week.
Arnott, who played in all 31 matches last season, missed two matches last month with flu-like symptoms. She has recovered and had a season-high 12 kills against visiting Loyola Marymount on Sept. 24.
"I'm available to play at any time," said Arnott, who did not play in Hawai'i's sweep over WAC rival Nevada on Saturday. "Coach makes the call who goes in. Whoever he thinks is playing well will go in."
Arnott said watching the Nevada match from the sideline was made easier by Hawai'i's winning performance.
"It's hard sometimes, but when the team is doing good, it's not that hard to watch," Arnott said. "When they're struggling, it's painful to be on the bench."
Junior setter Caley Thurlby said Hawai'i has much depth this year, and changes in the lineup reflect that.
"It's just a change, there's no other way to say it," Thurlby said. "Everyone is saying, 'Something is wrong.' But there's a lot of competition this year. That's the bottom line."
Shoji said Arnott, a former La Pietra standout, would get another opportunity.
"She has to wait her turn again," Shoji said. "She'll get another chance. I'm sure someone will allow her to get back into the lineup, some way. When she does, she has to make the best of it."
For now, Hawai'i — a team that has won 111 consecutive WAC matches — is aiming to keep momentum following its 81-minute wipeout of Nevada. Hawai'i's 30-16, 30-7, 30-17 victory was its most lopsided since the inception of rally scoring in 2001.
"It will be hard to play at that level, especially when we go on the road," said Shoji, whose team is on a five-match winning streak, the longest this season. "We really need to show up mentally and focus, and come out fired up, and I think we will.
"I think we're confident now," Shoji added. "We have to guard against overconfidence and complacency right now. We need to step up ... and play like we're capable of."
Idaho is led offensively by Haley Larsen (3.33 kills per game), Kati Tikker (3.03 kpg) and Meghan Brown (2.61 kpg). Sarah Loney runs the Vandals' offense, averaging 11.87 assists per game.
"Idaho is a pretty well-rounded team," Shoji said. "They don't have any big star, but they don't have any weaknesses. They're a good, solid, ball-control team."
Boise State is still looking for its first WAC victory this season. The Broncos are led by Cameron Flunder, who is averaging 3.53 kills and 0.80 blocks per game while leading the team with 16 aces.
Reach Brandon Masuoka at email@example.com.