ONLY in Hawaii ...
Wahine look good;
alumnae look real good
would 6,600 people show up for a women's volleyball scrimmage;
would fans actually cheer louder for an alumnae team than the current varsity, especially when the veterans stunned the newcomers, 15-12;
might there be some truth to UH freshman Lily Kahumoku saying she knew everyone in the Stan Sheriff Center.
Welcome to Wahine volleyball, the 26th edition. Saturday night mixed the old with the new, tradition with innovation, and enough enthusiasm to bring a team back home for the NCAA final four 119 days from today.
The "kids" looked OK despite the opening night jitters. Freshman setter Jennifer Carey stepped into collegiate ball as if it were her living room, with poise and a nifty backset.
And then there was Kahumoku, another Fab 50 selection, with a powerful arm swing and all-American promise. The other newcomers -- Margaret Vakasausau, Andrea Gomez-Tukuafu, Tanja Nikolic and SyRina Makainai -- also had their shining moments under the glare of a state-wide spotlight.
FIFTH-RANKED Hawaii opens its quest for a fifth national title Wednesday night at Cal. Coach Dave Shoji has championship banners from every decade except the '90s; the pressure is doubled to win one for this decade as well as to do it at home in December.
From the looks of things, the Wahine have a shot at it. Player of the Year candidate Heather Bown connected well with Carey, a critical key to the team's success.
"She's going to be the link to the final four," Bown said of Carey on Saturday night. "In the beginning, you could see the nervousness of our new players. It was tough for us when we weren't playing well and we got a little frustrated.
"But then everyone calmed down, (Carey) got into a groove and it was fine."
OK, so the alumnae team ran out of gas in Game 2, falling 15-8. But it sure was fun to watch Tita Ahuna pound it through the block as she did for Hawaii's last championship team of 1987.
ORIGINALLY, the varsity was scheduled to have just an intrasquad scrimmage because it was felt the alumnae could not put up a competitive team. Marcie Wurts Nowack (1980-83) changed that thinking as she served up six straight in Game 1 and the alums never trailed after that.
Heidi Ilustre's bullet serve helped bring the alumnae back to reality. She had five aces in a 7-0 run and the alums were done.
"I think we should get rings or something for beating them," said Chastity Nobriga (1992-96). Nobriga was easily appeased by the offer of refreshments from player/coach Kari Anderson (1991-94).
A scary moment occurred on the second play of the Green-White varsity scrimmage when senior defensive specialist Shelly Kim went down with a torn ACL. Shoji said Kim could be back later this season.
In 1987, Mary Robins went down with the same injury during warm-ups prior to the season opener against Cal. There is just too much coincidence here, considering that one can rearrange the letters of ACL to spell Cal and the last time the Wahine opened the year with the Golden Bears was 1987, their last title season.
If the 1999 Wahine squad needs inspiration, they only have to look back at Saturday's Green-White alumnae match. Nine of the 12 members of Hawaii's first national championship team of 1979 were there.
"It's great to see the people who helped us get where we are today," said Carey.
The Wahine also got a look at where they need to go.
Cindy Luis is a Star-Bulletin sportswriter.
Her column appears weekly.