Cal Poly rallies past Rainbows in five
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By Ann Miller
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Ann Miller
After a volleyball match where it was clear early that one team was going to go home asking "How did we lose to those guys?" Hawai'i was the team shaking its head last night.
The 12-ranked Rainbow Wahine were upset by 23rd-ranked Cal Poly, 22-30, 30-21, 16-30, 30-24, 17-15. The Mustangs (7-3), who now have three upsets over ranked teams, fought off four match points at the end and won on their first serve for it.
UH (5-4) brought the crowd of 3,431 at Stan Sheriff Center to its feet, then dropped it to its knees in yet another roller coaster ride. Cal Poly was just as erratic.
They were dominant in Game 1 and in control of Game 2 before San Luis Obispo found its way into the match.
Sophomores Alicia Waller (24 kills) and Kylie Atherstone (23) never stopped shredding the Hawai'i block. The 'Bows shouldn't have been surprised. Their block has disappeared before, and the Mustangs are 5-1 in five-game matches this season. The only loss came against Pepperdine, which fell to Hawai'i in five twice to open the season.
The Rainbow Wahine erased 10 match points in those two matches against the Waves. Last night, it haunted them.
Hawai'i opened an 8-5 advantage in the final game when its dormant block awoke for two straight stuffs. It pushed the advantage to 14-11 when Kanoe Kamana'o saved a UH shank by soft-blocking the Cal Poly overset, and Juliana Sanders stuffed Ashleigh Bertoni.
Then the 'Bows got rejected, by more than Cal Poly if you listen to them.
During a long rally on the first match point, Bertoni got her hand between the floor and a Jamie Houston kill. That led to an Atherstone kill. Another long rally ended with Houston hitting into the net. Hawai'i called time and Houston was stuffed to make it 14-14.
Hawai'i argued the pancake dig and the ensuing set on the first match point.
"It was a lack of focus on our part," Mason said. "That ball (Bertoni dug) was down and I think we had a breakdown after that. In our mind we won the game."
UH coach Dave Shoji thought the dig might have been clean, but the set was mangled. "She probably got it up but they certainly mishandled the second ball badly and the ref missed it," Shoji said. "That's the game right there. It was clearly a double hit."
Hawai'i got a grip for a moment, when Sanders slapped her 12th kill, but the Mustangs came up with their 12th block on the fourth match point. They got another pancake dig to extend the next point, which they won when Jessica Keefe hit out. Cal Poly won when Mason, who had just four errors in 51 swings — and 17 kills — went long.
"We couldn't make any plays," Shoji said. "All we needed was one play out of about five and we couldn't come up with one. And they did."
Cal Poly coach Jon Stevenson is watching his team, which has but one senior and gets the bulk of its offense from two sophomores, play its way into the NCAA Tournament the first month of the season. He admitted neither team played its best last night, but knew his team could win.
"The fifth set, when it's to 15, it makes every point so exciting, and every move," he said. "The teams that can execute and relax, and have a little bit of fun with it ..."
The Rainbow Wahine's fun ended in the final minutes. Houston led Hawai'i with 27 kills, and was painfully honest about her team's most basic breakdown.
"We'd get in long rallies and kind of forget what's going on at the net ...," she said. "We know what we have to do and sometimes we just forget.
"This hurts the most because we had so many shots at finishing the game and we just couldn't. We played our hearts out and it hurts to lose like that."
The notoriously slow-starting Rainbows ripped through Game 1 with a diverse offense Cal Poly could not solve. It started with passing good enough to get the middles heavily involved, and they were all but unstoppable. Sanders (4 kills), Nickie Thomas (3) and Kari Gregory (2) went a combined 9 for 14 without an error.
The only down side to Game 1 came when Thomas put the 'Bows up 23-17, then crumbled to the ground and grabbed her knee. She did not come back. The school no longer releases information on injuries so her status is not known.
Hawai'i had control of the second game and seemingly the match, but let it slip away as its
The teams play again tonight, with whatever is left.
"The toughest mentally will win," Shoji said. "It's a physical battle but there's no superiority here. The teams are even."
Reach Ann Miller at email@example.com.