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Kalani Simpson Sidelines

Kalani Simpson

Sunday, August 24, 2003


Big, bad USC
can’t steal UH’s joy


THEY got run. Swept. Smashed. Spiked. They got left. Three-and-out.

"They will not play like that again, believe me," Dave Shoji said.

"They will come back and be much better for this game."

No, the Wahine never stopped fighting, they believed to the end.

And after it.

"I wouldn't do anything differently," Kim Willoughby said. "I'd do everything the exact same way."

This match was the real thing. The deafening, high-pitched, airplane-on-the-jetway sound of the arena told us that. And the effort and the clenched fists, and when the momentum swayed and the Wahine bench turned into the Temptations or the Pips, that told us this, too.

The Kansas State fans stayed. They had to watch this. The Florida fans went nowhere.

This was the real thing.

But this night's result was final. And emphatic.

There were questions to be answered, with this battle of these titans. Last night was the first of many proving grounds for Hawaii's Wahine, the nation's No. 2 team and the group already anointed by an entire state as the ones to quench The Drought.

So now we ask again.

Is this a national championship team?

Ohhhhhhhh, yes.

USC is a national championship team.

There they went -- 6-3, 6-3, 6-3. Six-FIVE. There, there's the 6-5 girl. No, wait. Wrong number.

Six-six.

And more important, 30-22, 30-26, 31-29.

These Trojans (if you can actually get people to call a sports team "the Women of Troy" you should also see if they're interested in buying any bridges) are a long, lean, skyscraping volleyball machine.

USC can play defense. There were no easy kills for Hawaii. For USC, the ball always bounced up. It was always in play. There were 100 second chances. The Trojans had more lives than the Maui big cat.

And that block. That block was ridiculous.

"I got blocked off the court tonight," Lily Kahumoku would say.

"One of the things we wanted to do," USC coach Mick Haley would say, "was not to focus on winning but focus on being a better team than last year."

Yikes.

No, USC was too good. Too tall. Too quick. Too everything.

Too lucky, too.

"There's never doubt," USC's April Ross said. "There's just you've got to figure out a way to win."

This is what a national championship volleyball team looks like.

On paper.

"They may be bigger," Kim said. "But better? Doubt it."

UH had something that USC didn't. Hawaii showed something, was special, even in loss. Last night we saw another answer to a different question.

This team plays with joy.

Lily. Her follow-though is a Sammy Sosa leap. A jump for joy. A 180 twist with a raised fist and a leg kick and a smile better than 1,000 watts.

There are more smiles than a Kodak commercial. More fists than a prizefight. More dives than a fixed fight. And after every block we are transported back to "The Arsenio Hall Show," circa 1991.

Or maybe, just maybe, Klum Gym, 1987.

No, this is not a national championship team. Not yet. But maybe it could be. Maybe there's something in them, deep down.

"I always have fun," Willoughby said.

There is something different about this team. This is something I haven't seen here. Not live. Not yet.

You have never seen such passion. Even the Europeans, these Ivan Dragos of bump, set, spike. Everybody smiled.

But they know a secret, these women in black.

This is fun.

This is what volleyball should be.

This is the greatest sport in the world, and if you do it right you can go where no man has gone before.

This is women's volleyball.

And they are Wahine.



See the Columnists section for some past articles.

Kalani Simpson can be reached at ksimpson@starbulletin.com

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