Friday, December 15, 2000
Hawaii's hopes of a national title
ends after a heart-breaking loss
to Nebraska in the semifinals
of the NCAA Championships
By Pat Bigold
RICHMOND, Va. -- On a bone-chilling winter's night, the University of Nebraska Cornhuskers decided to throw a block party downtown on Leigh Street for the University of Hawaii.
Unfortunately, the Wahine couldn't get out of it.
If they had, they'd be playing No. 4 Wisconsin (33-3) for the NCAA women's volleyball championship tomorrow at Richmond Coliseum.
The Wahine (31-2) were eliminated, 3-15, 12-15, 15-9, 10-15, before 7,783 fans in the tournament semifinals by the No. 1 team they'd wanted to face all year.
The Cornhuskers (33-0) validated their ranking by outblocking Hawaii, 23 to 7.5, with 36 combination blocks to Hawaii's nine.
It was a situation that had become a little too familiar for the Wahine lately. In the last seven matches of the year -- all nonconference -- they were on the short end of the block five times.
But Nebraska did to Hawaii what an even bigger Long Beach State front line couldn't do on its home court a few weeks ago: hold the Wahine to a .137 team hitting percentage.
"Maybe the reason we didn't play well is because we wanted it so bad," said senior team captain Jessica Sudduth, who had her 13th double-double (13 kills, 15 digs). "Maybe we were too tense. I don't know. But I don't doubt anyone's will to win."
Sophomore Lily Kahumoku, the recently named All-American who played on the left side with Sudduth, led five Wahine in double-digit kills with 18 and a .250 hitting percentage.
"I don't know if Nebraska is a better team, but tonight they were," said Kahumoku, defiant to the end.
"We can learn from this experience," she paused thoughtfully for a second and turned to Sudduth, sitting next to her at the news conference table with moistened eyes. "I can, but as for Jess, I'm sorry, sweetie."
Asked to comment on the future of the team she's leaving, Sudduth found it hard to accept that this was really the end for her as a Wahine.
"I never thought of myself as not in the future," she said, choking back a tear.
Sudduth finished as one of only four Wahine to ever record 1,000 kills and 1,000 digs in a career.
"I wish them the best of luck and I know these girls know how to work hard," she said. "That's what got us where we are. ... I'll root them on."
Under the circumstances, that was about all anyone could expect Sudduth to say into a microphone in the bowels of a strange arena. She and her teammates were 5,000 miles from the Stan Sheriff Center and very alone in their quest for college volleyball's golden fleece.
With the thermometer reading 37 outside, there was also a chill inside for the Wahine.
Of all the teams in the final four, Hawaii was the only one not accompanied by its own band and cheerleaders.
The university rented a local band which couldn't seem to get the hang of belting out the all-important "Hawaii 5-0" theme.
Nebraska's Big Red band played the national anthem for the match.
To add insult to injury, four male Cornhusker students wearing fake grass skirts, coconut shell bras and paper leis, stood up in a lower aisle to taunt the Wahine when they were down, 2-0.
But the real hurt was the Nebraska block. Hawaii was blown out by it in game 1.
The Wahine started the match committing the first of their 46 errors and quickly fell behind 2-0.
After All-WAC freshman middle blocker Maja Gustin (13 kills) finally put the Wahine on the board (3-1), the block combination of Amber Holmquist (three blocks) and All-American Laura Pilakowski (three blocks) went to work and the Cornhuskers took control with a 9-0 run.
Gustin, Hawaii's top percentage hitter, was blocked three times in the game.
Hawaii hit .000 in the game to Nebraska's .435 and was outblocked, 8-1.
"We couldn't serve, couldn't pass, couldn't hit, couldn't set, couldn't block," Sudduth said. "Just absolutely nothing."
Even Nebraska head coach John Cook was amazed at how solid his team, which leads the NCAA in blocking, played.
"I know we're a great blocking team, but that's pretty remarkable ... at this level," said Cook, who was named coach of the year by the American Volleyball Coaches Association earlier in the day.
Holmquist, No. 1 in the NCAA in individual blocking, said the Cornhuskers realized they had to stuff Hawaii (NCAA's No. 5 hitting team) right away or pay for not doing so.
"We started real strong on our blocking," Holmquist said. "We knew they were big hitters and we just had to step up on our blocks to have a chance."
Jenny Kropp did the most individual damage for Nebraska, making 16 kills, 10 blocks, and eight digs while hitting a team-high .438.
"Kropp was unbelievable -- she took up much of the court," said Wahine coach Dave Shoji. "We just had trouble with two really good, well-formed blockers out there."
Hawaii fell behind, 3-0, to start game 2. But the Wahine suddenly came to life and made it 3-2 on points scored by Jennifer Carey (54 assists) and Sudduth.
Nebraska jacked it to 6-2 before Hawaii started to get some velocity from Kahumoku and Kim Willoughby (15 kills, 15 digs) to move within one point (6-5).
Nebraska responded with a 5-0 run to make it 11-5. But Hawaii showed some fight this time, storming back, sustaining rallies and setting up Sudduth and Kahumoku on the left side to narrow Nebraska's lead to 11-9.
Nebraska went up, 13-9 but Hawaii moved within two twice more (13-11 and 14-12) behind smart hitting by Sudduth before the Cornhuskers put it away.
"A big key was our inability to capitalize on points opportunities in game 2," Shoji said. "I counted something like 10 or 12 swings that we either hit into the block (for Nebraska points) or hit out. We just got a little impatient, so it was a matter of taking care of the ball and not making unforced errors."
Willoughby led the Wahine with six kills in the third game win that gave Hawaii a stay of execution.
Battling to force a rally scoring fifth game, the Wahine took a 5-3 lead in game 4 but Nebraska went on a 5-0 run. The Wahine tied it up before Nebraska responded once again.
The match ended with consecutive points on blocks.
Asked what she was thinking when game 4 was tied at 8-8, Kahumoku said she was thinking the Wahine would pull it out.
"There wasn't a doubt in my mind we'd go to a fifth game, but it didn't happen," Kahumoku said.
As for All-American setter Greichaly Cepero, Kahumoku said she was the best setter she'd seen all year.
"With a good setter, your duty as a blocker is much more difficult because you have to play straight up," she said. "You can't shade one way and anticipate things. She (Cepero) makes very good decisions. She's not flashy but she doesn't have to because she gets things done."
Veronica Lima had 11 kills for Hawaii but hit only .125, one of four starters who hit below .200.
Shoji maintained that the match was "winnable."
"We just couldn't follow their offense and block," he said.
He also said he sensed his players were unusually tight in the coliseum.
"Our practices here weren't as loose as they were in Hawaii," Shoji said. "Prior to the Long Beach State match, there was laughing and joking. But there was none of that here."
DIGS: In the other semifinal of the evening, the Badgers defeated USC, 15-10, 15-9, 15-9, behind All-American Sheria Livingston (21 kills) and Jenny Maastricht (20 kills).
Nebraska def. Hawaii,Wahine (31-2)
15-3, 15-12, 9-15, 15-10
g k e att pct. bs ba d Willoughby 4 15 12 43 .070 0 2 15 Carey 4 0 1 1 -1.000 0 1 11 Sudduth 4 13 11 45 .044 0 2 15 Kahumoku 4 18 7 44 .250 1 0 7 Lima 4 11 8 24 .125 1 1 9 Gustin 4 13 6 32 .219 1 3 2 Vakasausau 1 0 0 0 .000 0 0 2 Nikolic 2 2 1 5 .200 0 0 0 Gomez Tukuafu 4 0 0 0 .000 0 0 7 Lee 3 0 0 0 .000 0 0 3 Duggins 2 0 0 0 .000 0 0 0 Villaroman 3 0 0 0 .000 0 0 2 Totals 4 72 46 194 .134 3 9 73
g k e att pct. bs ba d Cepero 4 4 2 13 .154 3 4 5 Oxley 4 8 1 14 .500 0 5 6 Holmquist 4 11 4 26 .269 0 10 2 Pilakowski 4 13 5 37 .216 0 4 11 Kropp 4 16 2 32 .438 2 8 8 Behrends 4 6 2 25 .160 0 2 8 Wischmeier 4 1 0 1 1.000 0 0 13 McWilliams 3 0 0 0 .000 0 0 1 Schrad 2 4 0 11 .364 0 3 5 Totals 4 63 16 159 .296 5 36 59
Key--g: games; k: kills; e: hitting errors; att: attempts; pct.: hitting percentage; bs: block solos; ba: block assists; d: digs.
Aces--UH (5): Lima 3, Carey 2. NU (4): Oxley 2, Cepero, Behrends.
Assists--UH (64): Carey 54, Vakasausau 5, Willoughby 2, Sudduth, Kahumoku, Lima. NU (57): Cepero 52, Oxley 3, Pilakowski, Kropp.
T-2:24. Officials: Steve Robb, CJ McAbee-Rehrer. A--7,334.
Ka Leo O Hawaii