'Bows built respect along with WAC winning streak
A sure sign of the abiding respect the rest of the Western Athletic Conference has for the University of Hawai'i women's volleyball program comes in what people aren't saying about the struggling Rainbow Wahine.
At a time when the Rainbow Wahine's hold on the conference is as vulnerable as it has been in a decade and their NCAA-record 128-match conference winning streak appears in jeopardy, you will not hear anything but reverence from the teams they have long dominated. No public relishing of UH's plight from the teams under its thumb. And, nothing so bold as talk of an uprising from the oppressed.
They might be thinking about ending UH's monopoly — and are undoubtedly counting the days — but it is notable that nobody has so far dared to breathe so much as a word of it.
Never mind that the Rainbow Wahine are 5-3 and have dropped to 12th in the latest poll. Or that the status of two of their top players, All-America setter Kanoe Kamana'o and All-WAC outside hitter Tara Hittle, is undisclosed and apparently up in the air. Nobody around the WAC is willing to publicly tug on Superwoman's cape, just yet.
"I know those are great kids in that program and I hope they are healthy and able to play; I hope Hawai'i is at full strength," said Ruben Nieves, whose Fresno State Bulldogs play UH in the Sept. 23 conference opener at the Stan Sheriff Center. "But, from a competitive standpoint, of course, we'd love to play them at not full strength."
That's as close to hand-rubbing anticipation as you're likely to get from anybody in the WAC at this point. Call it coaches' caution. Or, perhaps the collective wisdom acquired the hard way watching UH go unbeaten in WAC regular season and postseason competition since Sept. 25, 1998. But nobody is willing to say UH's streak is running on borrowed time.
"They may not beat a Nebraska or a Stanford without their big guns, but they'll still be strong in the WAC," said Devin Scruggs, Nevada's coach. "I mean, look at the benches they've had."
Scruggs knows better than most just how tough it is to win a match from UH even on the Rainbow Wahine's rare off nights. "(Breaking the streak) is something we shoot for every year," said Scruggs, who has been trying for five years.
Indeed, taking UH to five games only to see the 'Bows prevail has become an enduring frustration. Last year New Mexico State did it twice. The year before Nevada failed to close the deal on two occasions.
"They're a perennial Top 10 team and one reason they are a Top 10 team is they have depth," Nieves said. "Their second team is as good as anybody else's first team. When we played them last year they played a lot of subs and they did not drop off. We thought their best outside hitter was on the bench last year and we cringed when they brought (Jamie) Houston into the match."
Clearly, the rest of the WAC sees this as their year to finally pierce the Rainbow Wahine's invincibility. But, when it comes to UH, they've learned that seeing is believing.
Reach Ferd Lewis at firstname.lastname@example.org or 525-8044.