Fifth-ranked Florida floors UH
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By Ann Miller
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Ann Miller
After living on the edge opening weekend, seventh-ranked Hawai'i was given a shove into volleyball reality by fifth-ranked Florida last night. The Gators (3-0) swept the Rainbow Wahine, 30-20, 30-26, 30-23, on the first night of the 19th annual Hawaiian Airlines Wahine Classic.
Hawai'i (2-1) fought off 10 match points last week in a pair of five-game victories over 19th-ranked Pepperdine. Last night, a Stan Sheriff Center crowd of 6,911 saw UH erase one match point before going down with a whimper.
"We wanted to come back but there was just a bad feeling on the court," junior Tara Hittle said. "Not playing to our potential. We made tons of mistakes. You can't make that many mistakes against a team like that, a good team.
"They played well, they kept us from getting into our game. You've got to give them credit but I think we could have done a better job. Everyone."
UH coach Dave Shoji, denied his 900th win for at least a day, felt Florida "exploited every weakness we had" and admitted his team couldn't handle the pressure the Gators brought, and kept bringing.
"Everybody was rattled, including me and the rest of the coaching staff," Shoji said. "We just couldn't perform. We really have to forget the match and everybody take responsibility for the loss. There's no pointing fingers. We all had a part in the loss. We have to move on."
Earlier, 10th-ranked UCLA (4-0) swept Colorado (1-1), 30-25, 30-25, 30-25. Nana Meriwether was in on 10 of the Bruins' 14 blocks. UCLA used nine players at least two games and still out-hit the Buffs .321 to .137.
The hitting gap was almost as dramatic in the matchup of top-10 teams. Florida opened with a .517 flourish in an imposing first game and finished with a .287 to .096 advantage in one of the sport's most telling statistics. It was certainly more accurate than the rankings.
The Gators' dominance was so widespread, and their blocking so tough, they won Game 2 with a measly 10 kills — to Hawai'i's 17. They had the Rainbow Wahine so confused at the end balls were flying every which way but forward. Even when the 'Bows made a brilliant play, it was often followed by a rally-killer.
Florida didn't even play all that well after the opening-game ambush, when Hawai'i did not have a block and barely got a touch against outsides Marcie Hampton and Amber McCray.
Turned out, those two were the only real offensive threats on the floor. Hawai'i's outsides provided two-thirds of its offense, but Hittle hit just .156 and Jamie Houston .078. Neither team could call the middle a force. Hampton and McCray are hitting for a much higher percentage than any other Gator, which is highly irregular for outsides.
"That's because we are Team Funky ..." said Florida coach Mary Wise, whose teams have now won their last four against UH. "I'd like to think we'll get our middles untracked eventually."
For now, Hawai'i's passing simply isn't good enough to get the middle involved. And Jayme Lee, who has brought some ballhandling stability since taking over at libero the first match, sprained her right ankle near the end of last night's match.
The 'Bows finished the first game with positive hitting numbers (.026) only because a free ball dropped between two Florida defenders late. Senior Sarah Mason, who suffered an ankle injury a week before the season began, got her first start in Game 2. The Rainbow Wahine's first stuff of the night followed quickly and suddenly the Gator hitters had something to think about.
The teams traded points, and lots of hitting errors, through a dozen ties. Florida went on a 9-3 run to go ahead 27-23. The Rainbows rallied within one to force the final timeout, but lost the last three points on two hitting errors and Hampton's 10th kill.
Hawai'i kept it close again early in the third, but was outscored 14-6 at the end. While the Rainbows were desperately hoping for the magic of last week to return, Florida wasn't having any.
"Up 2-0 we talked to them about ... Hawai'i, in this building, can come back even if they're down 0-3," Wise said. "You've got to play like it's zero-zero because Hawai'i has another gear. I've seen it, when this place is rocking."
Hawai'i plays Colorado tonight following the 4:30 p.m. Florida-UCLA match. The 'Bows will try to take their fifth straight off the Bruins in tomorrow's 5 p.m. finale.
No word on ticket sales for the NCAA Regional in Honolulu Dec. 8 and 9, but Florida is selling tickets for its regional in Gainesville on the same dates. An all-session pass, for both nights, is $15 — less than the cost of a general admission ticket to a single Hawai'i regular-season match.
Reach Ann Miller at email@example.com.