UH volleyball team sorely misses Hittle
By Ann Miller
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Ann Miller
A decision about Tara Hittle's future this volleyball season won't be announced any time soon, unless the University of Hawai'i junior does it herself.
It is a sign of the very confused times in Manoa that Hittle's future is clear to players, parents and friends, but no one in the athletic department who can give a definitive answer is able to talk about it. The same problem popped up last week with All-American Kanoe Kamana'o, who was out with a hip injury.
Those close to the program, and others not so close, have been told Hittle has an ankle injury so severe she will not play again this season. A week ago, the school had already figured that if the junior outside hitter did not pass another ball, the Rainbows would need to win at least one Western Athletic Conference Tournament match to make her eligible for a medical hardship and give her two more years to play.
Hittle, one of UH's most popular players, started the first five matches. Based on an NCAA formula, UH would need to play 30 matches this season to salvage another year for her.
Hittle is trying to deal with her future and has turned down interview requests for now, a UH spokesman said. No one else at UH can comment on her situation because of a new athletic department edict that does not allow school officials to disclose student-athletes' conditions.
That includes 32-year head coach Dave Shoji and the training staff. Both had previously been able to illuminate followers.
Shoji said last week that a decision on Hittle's future would be made yesterday. But yesterday he said he could not comment on it except to say she had not been cleared to practice this week.
He did talk about what her loss would mean short-term and long-term, for a team that has struggled with ballhandling and just lost its best ballhandler.
"It will affect ball control, passing and playing defense," Shoji said. "Even with her, we have struggled. We have to hope Jamie Houston and Sarah Mason can get better at this (ball control). If they play like they did against Northwestern (Friday) then we'll win some games.
"We've got some time for them to get better and they've got to get better at playing defense and passing."
The Rainbow Wahine dropped three spots to 12th in yesterday's CSTA/AVCA Coaches Poll after getting swept by then-No. 8 Stanford (now No. 7) Saturday. UH plays 23rd-ranked Cal Poly (San Luis Obispo) Thursday and Friday.
The Mustangs have surged into the poll for the first time in seven years with wins over fifth-ranked Texas and then-No. 25 Louisville in the last 10 days. They have lost to top-ranked Nebraska, Minnesota and 20th-ranked Pepperdine.
The Waves opened here with a pair of five-game losses to UH, with Hittle apparently healthy and absolutely happy.
"She brings a lot of emotional leadership," Mason said. "I look to her a lot. It's hard to explain the way she plays, but she's got this great attitude and you can count on her. She's the one you want next to you. She brings a lot of emotional and physical attributes."
Hittle is not the Rainbow Wahine's only health concern, just their most serious.
Kamana'o, who has chronic knee pain, missed the first two matches of her career last week because of a hip injury. She said she felt "about 90 percent" in the game she played Saturday.
Before the UH edict came down, Shoji described starting middle Juliana Sanders as "playing on a leg and a half." Jamie Houston wore a brace Saturday. Mason and Nickie Thomas have gone down with ankle injuries. Basically half the team is dealing with health problems that limit practice time, and consistency.
This week, Shoji is emphasizing "accountability" and "accuracy" to try and help Hawai'i fix its fundamental flaws. There will be no quick fix for Hittle, and the team already misses her.
"Hittle just has that comfort," UH co-captain Cayley Thurlby said. "It radiates off of her. She has confidence in her passing and defense and when you're next to her you know she's going to pass the majority of the court. It's stability, but we have other players that have that ability.
"We've got to suck it up and get better. I don't know if there's a diagnosis for our team. Just that we can do it."
The WAC reached an agreement with CSTV for the live telecast of three women's volleyball matches and seven women's basketball games this school year. Included are the WAC tournament championships in each sport and the Nov. 2 Hawai'i volleyball match at Nevada.
Reach Ann Miller at email@example.com.