Wolf Pack looking forward to 'Bows' arrival
By Ann Miller
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Ann Miller
As 16th-ranked Hawai'i flies into the final stages of its volleyball season there is a weird mix of patience and impatience.
Patience is a priority for a team that lost three starters for the season to injury and is still trying to put the remaining pieces in place.
The impatience is waiting for 23rd-ranked New Mexico State, which comes here a week from Sunday for Senior Night and the rare Western Athletic Conference match that matters.
The Aggies (26-1) upset the Rainbow Wahine (17-5) three weeks ago, ending their NCAA-record 132-match conference winning streak. Both are 9-1.
"For us, it's a pride thing," UH coach Dave Shoji said. "We don't want to get beat on our homecourt and we all took it personally when we lost."
The key for UH this week is not to look too far ahead. It plays at Nevada (14-9, 8-3) tonight and Utah State (12-14, 5-7) Saturday, with Louisiana Tech also on deck. The 'Bows need to win them all, for lots of reasons.
Tonight should be the biggest challenge. The Wolf Pack is the only team to beat New Mexico State. It has had the tenacity to win four times in five matches, behind Teal Ericson's hitting, Tristin Johnson's setting and Karly Sipherd's blocking.
They are capable of the upset, as most have been this season while the Rainbow Wahine struggled with their ballhandling and health. Nevada coach Devin Scruggs, who is 0-18 against Hawai'i and 71-25 against the rest of the WAC, said her team "kind of predicted" UH would lose in Las Cruces.
"They were a little bit vulnerable and it was a rough road trip," said Scruggs, whose team was swept there last week. "And, New Mexico State is not the easiest place to play.
"Our girls, in a way, wish we could have played them at home first before New Mexico State got them. We're stronger at home like everybody else and we'd have had a better chance. We're looking forward to playing this match. It will be good. We have to slow down their outside hitters, have to keep (Jamie) Houston from having an All-American night. She killed us last time."
The Rainbows have done their share of overwhelming teams this season, but not usually for an entire match. They have settled into a lineup dictated as much by health as wealth of talent and the results have often been good, if not enough to scare most opponents.
All-America setter Kanoe Kamana'o should break the WAC assist record tonight. She, Houston, Sarah Mason (aces) and Kari Gregory (blocks) all rank among the top 25 nationally. Juliana Sanders is in the top four in WAC hitting and blocking, with Houston and Mason first and third in points.
Freshmen Jayme Lee (eighth in digs) and Amber Kaufman (third in hitting) are already making their dent in the conference statistics. "Amber is doing a good job coming in as a freshman, making the adjustments she needs to make while she's in there," Kamana'o said. "She's just easy to work with, especially for me."
Kaufman's transition has kept the Hawai'i attack at a high level. What remains elusive is the ability to get the ball to Kamana'o where she can keep it there consistently. The Rainbows get ragged. If that gets worked out, on this trip or anytime soon, Shoji sees something he didn't think was possible as the injuries mounted earlier.
"When we're able to get the ball in a good position we can score," he said. "We've got five hitters that can score. We don't have a weak position like we've had in the past. We can set anybody if we pass well and get the ball near the net. That's our best attribute."
It is also surprising.
"If you would have told me two months ago we'd be missing all these people and still be in position to win the WAC I might have doubted it," Shoji said. "But we've been able to shore up where we are weak enough to be really competitive."
Both road matches will be broadcast live on 1420 AM, beginning at 5:30 p.m. today and 4 p.m. Saturday. The Nevada match will also be shown live on CSTV (Oceanic Digital 247), which caused the start time to be moved back half an hour. CSTV will also show the WAC Tournament final Nov. 24.
Jamie Houston's 20-20 match (24 kills, 23 digs) against San Jose State was the sixth by a UH player since rally scoring started in 2001. Susie Boogaard and Kim Willoughby each had two and Lily Kahumoku one.
Houston's average of 5.58 kills a game is fifth in the latest NCAA statistics. Kanoe Kamana'o is third in assists (13.89). Sarah Mason moved into 20th in aces (0.60) and Kari Gregory is 22nd in blocks (1.51).
Reach Ann Miller at firstname.lastname@example.org.