Rainbow Wahine finish at No. 9
By Ann Miller
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Ann Miller
In a volleyball season where all that could truly be expected was the unexpected, the University of Hawai'i fittingly finished ninth in the final 2006 ranking — one slot below the team it upset in the regionals. The CSTV/AVCA Top 25 Coaches Poll was released yesterday.
The Rainbow Wahine finished their 29-6 season in the Honolulu Regional final, winning 16 of their last 17. That 16th win was over Southern California, seeded fifth (to Hawai'i's 12th) in the NCAA Championship. USC finished the year at No. 8.
It was one of only two upsets the entire tournament, and by far the most dramatic. All it accomplished was to bring the 'Bows back into the top 10 for the first time since Sept. 5.
"It's kinda weird to put us behind USC since we beat them," said UH senior All-American Kanoe Kamana'o. "We have no control of what goes on ... but it also gives more incentive. There should be some fire in the girls being ranked behind someone knowing you beat them. If I was still playing I would be fired up and thinking 'What is this?' "
Kamana'o leaves as the program's career leader in assists (seventh on the NCAA career list) and is among the top 10 in every major statistical category at UH but kills. She is pondering options as varied as playing professionally in Croatia and training with the national team.
Croatia is considered a "farm system" for the Italian pro league, which is the world's most lucrative. The U.S. team is looking for a backup for Robyn Ah Mow-Santos — another UH All-American — for the 2008 Olympics.
Kamana'o is "not canceling anything out," but seems to be leaning toward staying home one more semester to get her degree, and help heal the aches and pains — particularly in her knee and hip — she played through her final seasons.
"I do need rest," Kamana'o admitted. "It's a great chance for me to try and recuperate, especially the little nicks I got this year. If I rest, hopefully I can get the inflammation between the joints to settle down a little, and try and strengthen."
Kamana'o finished the season 17th nationally in assists. Sophomore Jamie Houston was sixth in kills, juniors Kari Gregory and Juliana Sanders 12th and 28th in blocking, respectively, and senior Sarah Mason 24th in aces.
Hawai'i was 19th in hitting percentage, 17th in winning percentage and fourth in blocking, thanks to a blur of postseason stuffs. "There are times when you just get to the net and go 'whew,'" was the way Gregory described it.
The 'Bows' block was nearly 50 percent better in the postseason. Every front-row player vastly improved, with middles Gregory and Sanders up 40 percent, Kamana'o up 62 percent and Houston nearly 80 percent.
Coach Dave Shoji admits he has thought about next season "every day" since UCLA ended Hawai'i's season. He has no worries in the middle and believes the return from injury of Tara Hittle, the team's best ballhandler, will soften the loss of Mason's offense.
Hittle had successful surgery on her ankle during the regionals and is scheduled to get her cast off the next few days. Shoji hopes to have Hittle, Nickie Thomas and Jessica Keefe — the three starters lost to injury this season — healthy when the 2007 season starts in August.
He believes Houston is "already established" as Hawai'i's focal point after averaging more kills than national player of the year Sarah Pavan. Recruits Amanda Simmons and Elizabeth Ka'aihue should help in the middle and at libero, where freshman Jayme Lee started all year.
That leaves setting, and the huge void Kamana'o's loss creates. Freshman Dani Mafua redshirted this season and trained behind Kamana'o and Cayley Thurlby.
"She has less experience at setter and technically is not quite where we need her to be, but she's got eight months," Shoji said. "Dani might be the best athlete we've ever had at that position. She's big, strong, blocks well, plays great defense. It's all about location and delivery, and decision making."
Hawai'i's 2007 schedule will tentatively include Oregon State, Colorado State and Michigan in the first tournament, Kansas State, Louisville and UCLA in the second and Wichita State, Santa Clara and Eastern Washington in a third. Five of those teams were in this year's NCAA Tournament. Dave Shoji also hopes to bring in a ranked opponent Thanksgiving week.
Hawai'i led the country in attendance a 12th straight season, averaging 7,186 this year — 116 less than last and their seventh-best total in history. Hawai'i's 22 home matches are all among the best 29 crowds of the season.
Wisconsin was second in attendance, averaging 4,328, and Nebraska third, at 4,178. The NCAA-record crowds of more than 17,000 that watched the 'Huskers win the national championship last week in Omaha, Neb., were not included in their total because they were not home matches.
The 2007 final four is Dec. 13 and 15 at ARCO Arena in Sacramento, Calif. The final four returns to Omaha in 2008 (Dec. 18 and 20). The 2009 final four is Dec. 17 and 19 at Tampa Bay, Fla.
Reach Ann Miller at email@example.com.