'Bows continue searching for consistency
By Ann Miller
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Ann Miller
Beyond all the injuries and upheaval that have transformed this season into "Survival of Those Still Fit Enough" is a fact that might have been lost in an ideal volleyball world.
Hawai'i, ranked 15th and 15-5 going into Friday's match against Idaho, probably has fewer pure volleyball players, who grew up playing on the beach, than at any time in its 33-year history.
When things go wrong — and there have been times when it seemed everything that could go wrong did — there is often no one nearby to salvage a play on instinct. No Tita Ahuna to reel in a shank, no Robyn Ah Mow to alter the course of a volleyball speeding into the bleachers, no Melissa Villaroman always in the right spot even if the previous touch was all wrong.
UH coach Dave Shoji had the luxury of being able to win with nothing but players with volleyball instincts early in his 32-year-career. Now the best teams are a conglomeration of awesome athletes — and Hawai'i has its share of those — and volleyball players. Those that are both, like Kanoe Kamana'o or Stanford's Cynthia Barboza, are the exception.
"You'd like to get both in a player, but you'd rather take someone more physical than anybody else," Shoji said. "Having six volleyball players is not enough in most cases."
On this Rainbow Wahine team, Shoji points to Kamana'o and Tara Hittle as perhaps the only players instinctive and experienced enough to consistently "make the off play," with Sarah Mason and freshman Jayme Lee close. Hittle is out for the season with an injury.
"It's frustrating because our trademark has been good volleyball players and we're struggling in that area," Shoji said. "We've got physical players, but we don't play good volleyball all the time."
Shoji has no problem with his team's athleticism, but that has been compromised with the loss of Hittle, Nickie Thomas and Jessica Keefe to injury. Now Hawai'i has to rely even more on its instincts. Sometimes they simply don't kick in.
There have been times in every match, and long periods of time in every loss, that the Rainbow Wahine have "gone walkabout." Passers flail, balls fall in the middle of the court, players back off en masse, free balls fly out along with focus and communication.
Hawai'i, talented enough to survive and often thrive in this very difficult season, can look befuddled. Shoji is searching for a consistent comfort zone.
"I think they are trained well, but once the ball is a little bit off it's just not a natural thing for a lot of our players to make the good play," Shoji admitted. "If everything is perfect they are pretty good, but on the bam-bam plays we get thrown off a little and our rhythm is not good.
"A lot of our players are not natural players that grew up with the game so when the play is just a little off it's not natural for them to make a good play. But that's something you can learn and we can get better at."
Coaches are looking at different alignments this week, but mostly practices are about repetitions now. "Ballhandling stuff" is thrown in at every opportunity to try and make players more versatile and instinctive.
Shoji sees progress, which is imperative with only eight matches left in the regular season — most against the top half of the Western Athletic Conference. Idaho (6-13) lost its first nine this season, but is 5-2 in the WAC. The 'Bows play San Jose State (13-9, 4-5) at 5 p.m. Sunday. Both opponents have WAC matches tonight.
Bank of Hawai'i will pass out 2,500 ID wallets with keychains Friday. On Sunday, UH and Verizon Wireless are asking fans to donate used wireless phones, batteries and accessories to benefit victims of domestic violence, through the Verizon Wireless HopeLine program. HopeLine drop boxes will be at the Stan Sheriff Center main entrance from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Reach Ann Miller at email@example.com.