Rainbow Wahine stop New Mexico State in four sets
New Mexico State could cope with everything fourth-ranked Hawai‘i threw at it in Saturday's Western Athletic Conference volleyball match at Las Cruces, with the glaring exception of Kanani Danielson.
The sophomore All-American was nearly flawless after the opening set as she and her Rainbow Wahine teammates shut down the Aggies, 25-21, 15-25, 25-22, 25-11. Danielson finished with 21 kills — one off her career high — and hit .390, going the final three-plus sets without an attacking error.
The ’Bows’ ninth straight victory was watched by 4,289 at the Pan Am Center. Hawai‘i (13-2, 4-0 WAC) had swept the previous eight but NMSU, which shared the WAC regular-season title last season after beating the ’Bows in Mänoa, was having none of that.
The Aggies (8-5, 3-1) never led in the first set — hitting an ominous .024 — but never trailed in the second, ending UH’s win streak at 25 sets.
Ironically, Danielson hardly looked like the WAC Preseason Player of the Year in the opening set. She struggled to bring her hitting percentage back to zero (5 kills, 5 errors) even as her team scored six straight points early, surging to an 8-3 advantage, and never gave NMSU a chance to get back into it.
But the Aggies rallied in the second. “I think we got complacent after winning Game 1 and started standing around, not making good moves to the ball and got a little lazy,” UH coach Dave Shoji said. “Then their crowd got into it.”
And kept coming in the third. The set was tied 12 times, the last at 22 on Danielson’s 14th kill. She drilled another and NMSU called time. She drilled another to put Hawai‘i at set point, then stuffed that.
“The third game is how the momentum is going to go,” Danielson said. “Sometimes teams can pull it out and win the fourth and fifth, but it’s a lot easier if you win the third.
“I just wanted it to be over. I was dying. I was winded. I started thinking I need to run more. I felt out of shape. I’m not blaming any of the flights or travel at all. It was a just a matter of ….”
Of Danielson “going off,” as Shoji said. The Aggies could not stop her and had nothing left for the final set, when they hit .061 to the Rainbows’ .571.
It was an in-your-face example of what Shoji talked about two weeks earlier, when his team’s balance had been praised and he was not that impressed, insisting he was still searching for a player or two to take over.
“This is exactly what I was talking about,” Shoji said. “In a tight match, you’ve got to go to your strong players. You don’t want to be balanced and spread the sets around when the game is on the line. You go to your best player.”
That was Danielson for the final 90 minutes Saturday night. Right-side hitter Stephanie Ferrell contributed 11 kills and the team’s only other .200-plus hitting percentage, libero Liz Ka‘aihue (15) and senior Aneli Cubi-Otineru (12) combined for more than half the UH digs and 59 passes without an error, but it was Danielson’s day in the desert.
“We’ve got to go to our go-to players when the game is on the line,” Shoji said, “and those go-to players have got to step up and want the ball.”
NMSU was led by transfer Kayleigh Giddens, a junior college All-American, with 14 kills.
Dave Shoji is 997-175-1 in his 35th season. He should become the second Division I women’s volleyball coach to reach 1,000 victories in the Rainbow Wahine’s five-match homestand, which starts Thursday and Friday against Nevada and San Jose State.
In a flurry of five-set upsets Friday, Kentucky beat fifth-ranked Florida, Oregon State stopped seventh-ranked Oregon, 13th-ranked USC outlasted ninth-ranked California and Georgia Tech beat 17th-ranked Florida State. On Saturday, 12th-ranked Illinois defeated sixth-ranked Michigan.