UH plays training partner Arizona
By Ann Miller
Advertiser Staff Writer
It might look similar tomorrow night, but spring volleyball is nothing like what the Rainbow Wahine were playing in December.
That was the NCAA final four in Florida. Tomorrow, it will be an exhibition against Arizona, with half-price tickets at Stan Sheriff Center.
Even the leadup is distinctly different. The teams are training together in Mānoa every day at 6:30 a.m. Diminutive Hedder Ilustre, former Hawai'i defensive specialist and current team manager, is banging away at left-side hitter in practice. Kari Ambrozich, who will begin her 14th season as UH associate coach in the fall, sets.
Tomorrow, the match's rules and regulations will be well, fluid. The match is officially best three-of-five sets. But UH coach Dave Shoji says it absolutely will not go three sets and it could go five. Or not.
Three rotations into it, Brittany Hewitt will break the rules, with the Wildcats' blessing. As the only available UH middle this spring, Hewitt will play all six rotations in the front row. It will be a strange, side-to-side test of her endurance, and extended look at why she had a breakout freshman season last fall, helping Hawai'i finish No. 3 in the country.
"Brittany has separated herself from a lot of middles in the country," Shoji said. "I think she is on her way up to the top level."
Hewitt, lean to start with, lost 15 pounds the past three months. She got through six sets of full-time front row at a local tournament last weekend, admitting to getting a bit gassed at the end.
"It gives me extra reps," she said, shrugging. "More opportunity to just figure it out."
Hewitt, setter Dani Mafua, libero Liz Ka'aihue and All-American Kanani Danielson are the Rainbows' returning starters. Gone are seniors Aneli Cubi-Otineru and Amber Kaufman, who both earned All-America honors, and hitter Stephanie Ferrell, who will transfer. Shoji thinks the most compelling aspect of the exhibition for UH fans will be to figure out how Ferrell will be replaced. Corinne Cascioppo and transfer Chanteal Satele will both get a shot at her spot.
Hawai'i's "bench" will consist solely of defensive specialists. Redshirt freshman Kristiana Tuaniga is being held out of spring practice and Alexis Forsythe has been ill. Forsythe practiced twice in the past week, but will not be able to play.
With those two out temporarily, Hewitt has the middle to herself this spring. The front-row wrinkle is fine with Arizona coach Dave Rubio. His team is here for eight days of bonding and training. It is searching for a new libero and giving extended responsibilities to some of its many returning players. He is eager to see them take on bigger roles with the pressure of a final-four opponent — such as it is — and a rare large spring crowd.
Hewitt's front-row hijinks for Hawai'i are fine with him.
"Absolutely," Rubio said. "That's another thing about spring. After it's finished and all the competition is done, your record is still 0-0. It's not really indicative of how good you will be in the fall. It's just about experience."
Shoji is equally low-key. Along with a replacement for Ferrell, he is searching for another passer and defender to take Stephanie Brandt's place as first player off the bench.
The Rainbows' alignment will be out of whack for now, but his focus is in more specific areas. He is also looking forward to more of what got the 'Bows so far last season.
"If I were a fan I'd come just to watch Kanani play," he says of his sophomore, recently invited to play with the national program's A2 team this summer. "She is such a beautiful player to watch. She does everything on a really high level. All her skills are stronger. She is the complete package. It's worth $7 just to watch Kanani Danielson."
Four freshmen from California will join the Rainbow Wahine in the fall — 6-3 middle blocker/hitter Michelle Waber, 6-1 middle blocker/hitter Kaela Goodman, 6-1 middle Emily Hartong and 5-8 setter Mita Uiato. New associate coach Scott Wong arrived Saturday and has been in practice this week.
Backup libero Alexis Robins, who transferred to Hawai'i last year after playing two seasons at Portland, will not play next season.
Former Rainbow Wahine Kari Gregory returned home to Las Vegas this week after her second season playing professionally in Switzerland. Her team finished first in its division, which moves it up to the highest level next season.
Texas All-American Destinee Hooker gave up her final season of track and field eligibility to play volleyball professionally in South Korea. Hooker, who led the Longhorns into the national final against Penn State in December, won four NCAA high jump championships and six All-America honors in track. She also set school and NCAA records in the indoor high jump (6 feet 6).
Amanda Gil, who led the Pac 10 in blocks last season, has transferred from UCLA to Washington. Gil, a second-team All-American, will sit out the 2010 season because of conference rules and have two years remaining beginning in 2011. Gil, who is 6 feet 6, averaged 1.57 blocks a set in her sophomore season, which ranked second nationally.
Tickets for tomorrow's match are $7 adults, $5 seniors (65-older) and $3 students. All seats are general admission. Parking is $5. A promotion with match sponsor Phiten will distribute 300 Phiten titanium discs to fans who register at the Gate A sports marketing table prior to the match