Aggies' sweep of 'Bows was no 'fluke'
By Ann Miller
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Ann Miller
News of Utah State's audacious volleyball sweep of 10th-ranked Hawai'i spread at the warp speed of live statistics, text messaging and email across the Western Athletic Conference Sunday night.
The general reaction, in a two-word nutshell uttered by one coach: "Holy ----!"
New Mexico State coach Mike Jordan received a text from his manager telling him the Rainbow Wahine were down two games. He immediately sent a sarcastic text back, positive the manager was messing with him.
For Jordan, Nevada's Devin Scruggs and Idaho's Debbie Buchanan, the loss wasn't that shocking. It was that it came in Hawai'i — "They haven't lost there in forever," Jordan said — and in three games.
The Rainbows had won all previous 97 WAC matches at Stan Sheriff Center, their last home conference loss coming Oct. 10, 1994, to UC Santa Barbara in the Big West. Scruggs played against the Rainbow Wahine when she was at UOP and coached against them with San Jose State, Notre Dame, Cal and now Nevada. She remains frustratingly oh-for-the-'Bows, home and abroad.
"It was shocking, but it didn't surprise me, if that makes sense," she said. "Utah State is good. The shocking thing is that Hawai'i lost in Hawai'i, in three."
By the time Scruggs recovered, she was preparing for a conference call as the WAC representative for the regional ranking. She knew precisely what to expect.
"The others will want to drop Hawai'i versus bringing Utah State up," said Scruggs, whose team lost to USU Thursday — three nights after Idaho beat the Aggies. "That's not the case. Hawai'i is not bad, it just means the league is getting stronger. The top four or six all have the ability to beat each other."
And beyond the WAC borders. NMSU has wins over Louisville (No. 44) and Utah (63), both in the top 20 percent of the Pablo power ranking on the www.RichKern.com volleyball Web site. Utah State also stuffed the Utes, and Nevada beat Pepperdine (33).
It is the bottom three that worry Idaho's Buchanan. The power ratings for Boise State, Fresno State and Louisiana Tech range from 219 to 224. Those teams don't have a good win between them, leaving the WAC ranked ninth among the 31 conferences. FSU and Tech, however, have taken a game off Hawai'i.
How much is them and how much UH might be known tomorrow. The Rainbows open the WAC Tournament, in Las Cruces, N.M., at 11:30 a.m. HST against the winner of the morning play-in match between LaTech and Boise. It should be a great gauge of how good the WAC's worst are and Hawai'i's mental health after it was mugged by Utah State.
Beyond anything else, the Aggies' huge upset has given every player outside of UH the ability to believe anything is possible.
Tape of Utah State's sweep should be a hot commodity these next few weeks. Second-year USU coach Grayson DuBose employs an unorthodox system for the women's game that resembles the men's. The Aggies bomb their serves and block like crazy.
If they can get opponents out of system, they can pick them apart, even with an attack that consists mostly of Amanda Nielson — one of team's two seniors, along with Kahuku's Monarisa Ale. Hawai'i was out of system from 20-12 in the first game Sunday, and Utah State never let it back in. Those 87 minutes might be enough to earn DuBose Coach of the Year honors tonight, based on his colleagues recent sound bites.
He has also given them renewed hope, after emphatically ending the 'Bows' recent WAC blitz. "I'm curious to see how Hawai'i reacts to this in some respects," said Jordan, whose team will play Utah State in Friday's semifinals if both get through tomorrow. "It obviously gives everybody else a shot in the arm, a boost of confidence coming in."
He believes his team was "in a bad place for a while," but has broken out lately and is enjoying itself more and raising its game to a better, more balanced, level.
Nevada is still searching for balance, according to Scruggs. She moved libero Allison Hernandez into the front row to try and take offensive pressure off Karly Sipherd and Teal Ericson, who have provided nearly 65 percent of the Pack's attack.
Idaho got by Utah State by taking the Aggies out of their system and slowing Nielson. The Vandals have closed with a rush, behind Sarah Loney and Hayley Larsen. Their ball control has settled in, also bringing that precious balance.
And, like Utah State Sunday night, they have nothing to lose.
"For us, it's always anything can happen any night," Buchanan said. "We have to make sure we have respect for our opponents, prepare well for the match. We don't have seniors. ... We're telling our kids anything can happen. We're on the same side of the bracket as Hawai'i, but anything can happen."
It just did, Sunday in Manoa.
"It gives us all ... I don't know if hope is the right word, but it gives us a little more confidence," Scruggs said. "If we're able to get by Idaho and play Hawai'i, it's a team that just got upset. In some ways that's bad, it might play better because it's mad. But at least it gives us a glimmer of hope.
"To sweep them in Hawai'i, that says a lot. Somebody said, 'Oh, what a fluke.' I said no. A fluke is barely winning in the fifth. A sweep is not a fluke."
Reach Ann Miller at email@example.com.