Thursday, March 18, 2004


Wahine to take
on Nittaidai

This might be one of the years that Hawaii women's volleyball coach Dave Shoji is glad not to have the reigning national champion on the spring slate.

After visits from Stanford (2002) and Southern California (2003), Shoji will unveil a whole new lineup tomorrow against Nittaidai University (Tokyo). The exhibition match starts at 7 p.m. at the Stan Sheriff Center.

The Rainbow Wahine renewed a long-running relationship with Nittaidai earlier this week. The teams practiced together and communicated mostly via gestures and sign language. Nittaidai traveled 20 small but spirited players for the exhibition.

"We've had a long history with them. They're very skilled," Shoji said. "We've been able to handle them the last few times we played them just 'cause we're more physical, but their ball handling may be something we're not used to. They're small but they're skilled. They play a faster style than we're used to.

"A lot of it is making new friends and re-establishing the connection we have with Nittaidai. It's a more relaxed atmosphere."

The friendly ambiance is a perfect opportunity to give Hawaii fans a peek at life after the departure of seven seniors.

Shoji admits some habits might be hard to break as he tests a lineup without Kim Willoughby, Lily Kahumoku, Lauren Duggins, Maja Gustin, Karin Lundqvist, Nohea Tano and Melissa Villaroman.

"I think I'd like to pencil in No. 3 (Willoughby) and No. 9 (Kahumoku) and some others," he said. "We'll have to put some other numbers in there."

He'll start with No. 10. AVCA Freshman of the Year Kanoe Kamana'o is Hawaii's lone returning starter. She will be flanked by outside hitters Susie Boogaard and Alicia Arnott. Junior Melody Eckmier and redshirt freshmen Kari Gregory and Juliana Sanders will plug the pukas in the middle. Transfer Teisa Fotu is expected to see time on the right side.

Sophomore Ashley Watanabe and several others will be used at libero. Shoji plans to play everyone and he indicated that libero Raeceen Woolford could also get to the front row.

It is too early to speak of improvement, but development will be the theme. For those curious to catch a glimpse of the future, be prepared to see a different style of Wahine play.

"I think people are anxious to see what we have in store for next year," Shoji said. "It'll be fun. This is the type of team that's going to have to earn every single point somehow. We're not going to blow people away physically so we'll have to finesse a little bit."


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