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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, September 9, 2006

UH rallies to beat Northwestern in 4

UH volleyball photo gallery

By Ann Miller
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawai'i's Juliana Sanders finds an opening in the Northwestern block of Courtnie Paulus, left, and Brittney Aldridge during last night's match.

ANDREW SHIMABUKU | The Honolulu Advertiser

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UH's Nickie Thomas, left, and Sarah Mason go up to block a Northwestern shot. Thomas had career highs in kills (12) and aces (5).

ANDREW SHIMABUKU | The Honolulu Advertiser

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WAHINE CHALLENGE

TODAY: Fairfield vs. Northwestern, 4:30 p.m.; Hawai'i vs. Stanford, 7 p.m.

WHERE: Stan Sheriff Center

TICKETS: Adults $19 (lower) and $16 (upper), $10 seniors, $6 students, $3 UH students (with valid ID)

PARKING: $3

RADIO/TV: Hawai'i vs. Stanford live on Sports Radio (1420 AM) and pay-per-view

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In a volleyball match that had upset written all over it before the start and several times before the end ninth-ranked Hawai'i improbably came together to outlast Northwestern last night.

Playing without setter Kanoe Kamana'o and hitter Tara Hittle for the second straight match, the 'Bows put on their best performance of the season, gutting out a 29-31, 30-27, 32-30, 32-30 victory in the Waikiki Beach Marriott Challenge.

Hawai'i (5-2) plays eighth-ranked Stanford for the Challenge championship tonight. Hittle, who walked into the arena with crutches and wearing a walking cast on her right foot, will not play. UH coach Dave Shoji said Kamana'o, his All-America setter, might be available.

The school is no longer allowed to give any information on players' conditions or the seriousness of their injuries, but some close to the program have already been told that Hittle will probably miss the rest of the season. Shoji said a decision will be made after tonight's match.

Neither was cleared to play last night, before 4,603 at Stan Sheriff Center. So, without one of the country's best players and their best ballhandler, the rest of the Rainbows found themselves and that other gear they have been looking for.

Against a Big Ten team that started five upperclassmen and just kept coming for nearly 2 1/2 hours, the 'Bows never blinked. After losing a first game that featured a dozen ties, they won the critical points at the close of the last three games against an opponent that returns almost all its kills and blocks from last year's NCAA second-round squad.

"The difference was execution at the end, the composure Hawai'i showed," Wildcat coach Keylor Chan said. "Those are big plays. They really showed their composure and tradition. We were up in almost every game and at the end we just couldn't come through. The difference was having the desire to finish games."

Hawai'i had a court-full of heroes.

Senior Cayley Thurlby, in her second start at setter, wasn't happy with her performance but had no complaints from her coaches or teammates. She kept the Rainbows together and the offense in rhythm.

Opposing freshman liberos Jayme Lee (26 digs) and Kate Nobilio (34) traded spectacular defense for their teams and Lee, Raeceen Woolford, Sarah Mason and Jamie Houston anchored the 'Bows' best passing performance of the season.

Offensively, Houston (23 kills) battled back from a slow start and Mason (19 kills, 15 digs) came up with key plays all over the court in her first full week back after an ankle injury. Nickie Thomas had career highs in kills (12) and aces (5).

"We were able to fight off the obstacles we faced," Lee said. "The passing was there tonight. We really did pull together and dug deep."

Thurlby, more than any other, noticed the passing improvement.

"It was way better," she said. "It makes it so much easier if it's on the 8-foot line rather than the 10-foot line. ... The passing improved a lot and just gives confidence to the hitters. That gives the game rhythm."

Northwestern (2-3) got double-digit kills from four hitters and out-blocked Hawai'i (12-9) but never outplayed it at crunch time, which came often.

Games 2 and 4 each had 18 ties. The last came at 25 in Game 2, but a pair of Wildcat hitting errors put UH ahead and it held on behind Mason and Houston. Hawai'i also got nine digs from Lee in Game 2, and Thomas contributed two aces.

Thomas played a pivotal role in the 'Bows' third-game rally. She had three kills and a stuff to help them back from a 27-22 deficit. Both teams fought off game points before two Houston kills ended it the last after a remarkable dig by Mason against a hitter that faced no block.

"That gave us all confidence," Thurlby said. "To just step up and take it, not just let the game roll by. We flowed with it."

The 'Bows erased two more game points in the fourth to get to 30-29. After Northwestern fought off match point, it served out and Mason's kill ended it.

"It was perseverance," Shoji said. "We just hung in there and we made the key plays down the stretch in Games 3 and 4.

"I think we're getting leadership now from other people. There's definitely a different vibe on the court."

NOTES

In the opener, Stanford swept Fairfield, 30-13, 30-16, 30-14. The Cardinal (5-1) got 17 kills from Foluke Akinradewo, 13 from first-team All-American Kristin Richards and a dozen more from Cynthia Barboza, who hit .632.

The Stags (3-5) were led by Katie Mann's six kills. Fairfield hit for a negative .009 percentage, with Stanford holding St. Joseph graduate Lindsey Lee, the Stags' leading hitter, to three kills and six errors.

"They are great at 'shots,' "Cardinal coach John Dunning said. "We saw it (Thursday) and just decided to stop them and make sure they had to do something else."

Fairfield plays Northwestern at 4:30 p.m. today followed by the Rainbow Wahine and Stanford at approximately 7.

Tonight's Hawai'i-Stanford match will be shown live only on pay-per view. The first match will not be televised. Earlier television information from UH was incorrect.

Reach Ann Miller at amiller@honoluluadvertiser.com.

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