UH bids farewell to seniors with big win
|Wahine vs. New Mexico State photo gallery|
By Ann Miller
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Ann Miller
Just when New Mexico State thought it was safe to soar into Hawai'i's elevated Western Athletic Conference volleyball space, the Rainbow Wahine reached out and squashed the Aggies like bugs.
The 14th-ranked Rainbows (21-5) achieved payback and the inside lane to the regular-season WAC title last night by stopping 20th-ranked NMSU, 30-16, 30-18, 24-30, 30-23.
The teams had come into the match tied for first at 12-1. Both have two matches remaining in the regular season.
A Stan Sheriff Center crowd of 7,207 saw exactly what it asked for — loudly. It watched the 'Bows avenge a loss in Las Cruces a month ago, which ended their NCAA-record 132-match, eight-year winning streak against WAC opponents.
Then, that huge Sunday afternoon crowd sat silently to honor seniors Kanoe Kamana'o, Cayley Thurlby and Sarah Mason. Senior Night festivities started with a hula that immediately brought tears to Kamana'o's eyes, while many in "No Better Setter" shirts cried with her.
Kamana'o, a three-time All-American, became the 21st player in NCAA history to surpass 6,000 assists last night.
Last night, she and Thurlby — the UH captains — and Mason, who came up a dig short of a rare 20-20 (20 kills, 19 digs), led their younger teammates on an assault of the team that has tried so hard to take their WAC dominance away this season.
Game 1 was utter dominance for Hawai'i. Fans booed every NMSU (29-2) serve and the UH crowd was absolutely into the gravity of the volleyball moment from introductions.
After the first of five Aggie serving errors in Game 1, the 'Bows began to do a slow burn and scorched NMSU in the process. Kamana'o served six straight to take them to a 10-3 advantage and force the Aggies to take their first timeout.
It was 20-10 when they took their second, and Kamana'o was serving knucklers again while Jamie Houston (24 kills), Kari Gregory (a career-high 11 blocks) and freshman Amber Kaufman (six stuffs) buried everything in the front row. Mason aced the game's final two points.
The Rainbows were everywhere, with Gregory taking part in all six first-game stuffs, Mason and Houston burying five kills each and libero Jayme Lee anchoring a floor defense that kept three Aggie hitters at .000 — or worse.
That broke NMSU's streak of 26 straight games won. In Game 2, the Rainbow Wahine hit .306, got three more roofs — two by Gregory — and seven more missed New Mexico State serves.
UH led from 4-3, put it away when Kamana'o served five straight and finished it on three consecutive Aggie mistakes.
"I told my players after Game 2 that emotionally I was disappointed in what I was seeing and I expected more," NMSU coach Mike Jordan said.
During the break before Game 3, members of the football team did their haka in the middle of the court. The Rainbow Wahine came out early to scream with the crowd. All the emotion colliding on one night seemed to put them over the edge.
Their passing began to break apart. After eight ties, New Mexico State — suddenly unstoppable offensively — went on two long runs to pull ahead 19-11 behind Alice Borden and Kim Oguh. The only serious threat UH put up came way too late, when it fought off three game points with its only two blocks of the game.
Hawai'i has never lost to a WAC team here, where it holds a 90-match winning streak against conference opponents. And Mason and Houston were carving up the Aggie block, while Gregory was putting up a huge roof that held the NMSU middles — both among the top 20 nationally in hitting percentage — to a combined .170.
"When Game 3 was going on I thought maybe we can get in a fifth game again," Jordan said. "But Game 4 started off and we missed a couple serves early again."
Even UH coach Dave Shoji wasn't worried. His team scored six in a row with Kamana'o serving to go up 9-3 and sailed in.
"I was hoping we could play like we did in Games 1 and 2 again," Shoji said. "I didn't see any reason we couldn't. They were not doing anything different. They did serve tougher, but I thought we passed well tonight when we moved our feet. I just didn't see them turning the match completely around at that point."
Particularly not on Senior Night.
"It was kinda shocking that it was me, that this day was here," Kamana'o said. "I'm usually the one watching. This was me, being the one. It's a fun, memorable thing for us."
Reach Ann Miller at email@example.com.