Rainbows sweeping away early struggles
By Ann Miller
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Ann Miller
Three weeks ago, Rainbow Wahine volleyball coach Dave Shoji squirmed on the bench at Las Cruces as he watched New Mexico State stomp the life out of his team's season. Hawai'i resuscitated itself that Saturday and hasn't been slowed since.
The Rainbows (14-6, 8-0 WAC) go into tonight's match against San Jose State (9-10, 4-3) having won their last eight matches and 18 games — by an average score of 30-20. After rallying to win the last three at NMSU, they have swept Fresno State, Nevada, Idaho, Boise State and Utah State.
Hawai'i, after suffering through so much frustration and doubt in a September filled with top-five opposition, has made it look relatively easy since Shoji described its season as "hanging in the balance" at Las Cruces.
"I was having flashes of us having to win the WAC Tournament to make the NCAAs if we don't win this match," Shoji said that night three weeks ago. "I thought it was huge."
It might loom larger now. UH has transformed that desperate rally into a revival.
"That gave us a lot of confidence," Shoji said. "We just built up some momentum. Psychologically, it really, really helped the team to come back like that. We feel much better about ourselves. Now we're playing more efficiently. Our players are focused a little better. It gave us a big, big lift."
San Jose State hopes to catch the same lift. The Spartans stunned WAC runner-up Nevada Thursday. After falling in the first two games, they hit .593 to win the third. Freshman Colleen Burke, who hit .514 in the match, got two of her career-high 19 kills to break a 28-all tie in Game 4. SJSU won the final game 15-9.
Jennifer Senftleben, a member of last year's WAC All-Freshman team, launched a season-high 26 kills in the victory and hit 100 points over her season average. She is third in WAC kills, averaging nearly four a game, but is hitting just .189. The Spartans are hitting .196.
"Jennifer was awesome across the board," SJSU coach Craig Choate said Thursday. "I keep telling my team that they have the potential to do what we did tonight. You have to win a meaningful match against a good team for players to understand what you are saying."
Burke said the comeback was like "hitting a switch" for a team that had lost eight of its previous 11 — including a three-game defeat at Nevada. SJSU was swept by then-No. 10 Wisconsin in its second match and fell in five to Loyola Marymount, which beat Hawai'i.
The Wolf Pack, who have starting setter Tristin (Adams) Johnson back from injury, used all-WAC middle Salaia Salave'a only in the backrow the first three games against the Spartans because of an ankle injury. Salave'a played in the front row the final two games.
Shoji hopes San Jose's remarkable rally will "get our team's attention." The Rainbow Wahine have more wins against SJSU (51) than any other opponent and have won the last 25 times the teams have played. They haven't lost to the Spartans since 1993 — the year Choate became coach.
On the other hand, until Utah State joined the WAC this year, San Jose's four wins over UH are more than all other WAC opponents combined.
"Craig is an excellent coach," Shoji said. "He takes whatever players he has and comes up with a system to get the most out of them. That's pretty obvious from what they did against Nevada."
Hawai'i is going for its 100th consecutive regular-season win in the WAC tonight. That is the longest streak in the country since Florida was beaten last year after 145 straight wins in the Southeastern Conference. The 'Bows have won their last 114 matches against WAC opponents, counting postseason.
Jessie Shull, the Spartans' junior libero, needs 37 digs tonight to become the program's career leader. Shull was San Jose's sole all-WAC first-team selection last season. Her older brother, Jimmy, was signed by the Oakland A's this year after being drafted in the fourth round as a pitcher.
Eleven years ago yesterday , Hawai'i opened the Stan Sheriff Center (then known as the Special Events Arena) with a four-game victory over San Jose State.
Junior Sarah Mason is averaging 3.91 kills and hitting .270 in her first season at Hawai'i. Against WAC opponents, she is averaging a conference-best 4.88 kills and hitting .383.
Reach Ann Miller at firstname.lastname@example.org.