UH sweeps top WAC honors: Danielson named Player of the Year
By Ann Miller
Advertiser Staff Writer
LAS VEGAS — In a sweeping illustration of third-ranked Hawai‘i’s volleyball dominance in the regular season, the Rainbow Wahine captured all three major awards and all seven starters were honored on the all-Western Athletic Conference teams.
The all-WAC selections, voted on by the coaches, were announced tonight at the WAC Banquet.
The WAC Tournament begins tomorrow at Orleans Arena. Top-seeded Hawai‘i (26-2) has a bye and opens Tuesday (5:30 p.m. HST) against the winner of tomorrow’s match between Nevada (4) and Fresno State.
UH has captured WAC Player of the Year honors every season since joining the conference in 1996. This year, sophomore Kanani Danielson earned the honor with a brilliant performance from beginning to end.
It culminated in a career-high 32-kill performance Monday at Utah State. That is the highest UH kill total since 2006 and Danielson, a 5-foot-10 hitter out of Kamehameha, hit a phenomenal .455.
That was good for her fifth WAC Player of the Week award of the season, announced yesterday. She is only the second in UH history to win that many in one season, along with 1996 national player of the year Angelica Ljungquist.
Danielson is hitting .337 this year — 51 points higher than last — and averaging more than four kills and two digs a set. She was also named Academic All-District 8 second team.
Asked what separates her, UH coach Dave Shoji characterized it as her ability to rise to challenges.
“It is just her ability to raise her level when needed,” Shoji said. “She has a fifth gear most players don’t have. Some are not physically capable of having another gear. Some are not mentally capable of raising their level. She’s got them both.”
Shoji is Coach of the Year for the seventh time in Hawai‘i’s 14-year WAC history, but first since 2005. His team won all 16 WAC regular-season matches, losing just four sets, and comes into the tournament on a 22-match winning streak.
In his 35th year as UH coach, Shoji also became the second in his profession to win 1,000 matches.
“This was a historic year for him personally,” said Kari Ambrozich, now in her 13th season as Shoji’s associate coach. “But it really has to do with the team. It was impressive on the offensive and defensive side. He’s done the right things with the right personnel, played a style good for the players he’s got.
“This has been a banner year for him in the national picture and we’re not only beating teams in the WAC, but we’re beating them pretty handily. It shows how tough we are. I’m not saying we can’t be beat, but we are pretty good. Obviously all the credit goes to him because he’s the person who puts it all in place.”
Brittany Hewitt, a 6-3 freshman middle blocker out of Eagle, Idaho, is the Rainbow Wahine’s sixth Freshman of the Year. She leads the team — and is 15th nationally — with 1.36 blocks a set and is also hitting .362.
“I don’t think it was even close,” Shoji said. “We had no idea she would be this good this year. ... It was an individual thing with her. She said I’m going to win this position and I’m going to work hard and be a good blocker and have a good attitude. It’s all with her. She just kept working at the things she needed to work on. She’s a delight to be around — when she has her coffee — and when she needs to be serious, she’s very serious.”
Danielson was joined on the first team by seniors Aneli Cubi-Otineru and Amber Kaufman, and junior setter Dani Mafua. Liz Ka‘aihue, Stephanie Ferrell and Hewitt are on the second team.
Cubi-Otineru, who is averaging more than three kills and hitting .319, has been a first-team selection all three years at UH. The Punahou graduate’s hitting percentage has gone up 50 points each season.
Kaufman was also on first team last year. Her .458 attack percentage is third nationally and some 40 points higher than Ljungquist’s UH record.
It is Mafua’s inaugural appearance on first team, after being on second team last year. The Mid-Pacific graduate has her team hitting .322, third-highest in school history, third nationally and more than 100 points higher than any other WAC team. She is also fourth on the team in aces, digs and blocks.
Wednesday’s WAC Championship will be broadcast live on ESPNU at 4:30 p.m. Hawai‘i time.
2009 ALL-WAC VOLLEYBALL
Player of the Year: Kanani Danielson, Hawai‘i
Freshman of the Year: Brittany Hewitt, Hawai‘i
Coach of the Year: Dave Shoji, Hawai’i
Sarah Conwell, Idaho
Aneli Cubi-Otineru, Hawai’i
Kanani Danielson, Hawai’i
Kelsey Brennan, NM State
Jennah DeVries, NM State
Kayleigh Giddens, NM State
Kylie Harrington, Nevada
Amber Kaufman, Hawai’i
Dani Mafua, Hawai’i
Anna McKinney, Idaho
Debbie Pederson, Idaho
Whitney Woods, NM State
Lindsay Baldwin, Nevada
Erin Birmingham, NM State
Brianna Clarke, Fresno State
KC Clayton, Louisiana Tech
Stephanie Ferrell, Hawai’i
Brittany Hewitt, Hawai’i
Elizabeth Ka‘aihue, Hawai’i
Kelly Leonardo, Fresno State
Sadie Maughan, Boise State
Liz McArthur, Utah State
Breann Nesselhuf, Boise State
Alisha Young, Boise State
Alex Akana, San Jose State
Caitlin Andrade, San Jose State
Marissa Brand, Fresno State
Liz Harden, Boise State
Brittany Hewitt, Hawai’i
Elissa Ji, Nevada