Wahine ready for Pack
Big arena, little gym. It hasn't mattered where Hawaii has played its road matches. The Rainbow Wahine have been successful ... very successful ... regardless of the size of the opponent's home or their crowd.
This week, Hawaii heads to Nevada and Fresno State where the Wahine are a combined 32-1. First up are the Wolf Pack, who defeated Hawaii in five in their first-ever meeting in Reno in 1992 when both were members of the Big West.
The Wahine have won 11 straight against the Pack since then at the 1,800-seat Virginia Street Gym. They've won 17 in a row there overall after sweeping through the Western Athletic Conference tournament the past three seasons.
Hawaii at Nevada
When: Tomorrow, 4 p.m. HST
Radio: Live, KKEA 1420-AM
Series: Hawaii leads 22-1
Although Nevada will again host the tournament next month, the three-day event is at the Lawlor Events Center, which seats 11,600. The move was due in part to the WAC coaches wanting a more neutral site; however, given the usual attendance at the tournament of about 1,200 -- predominately Hawaii fans -- the crowd will be swallowed up by the arena.
"We have never practiced or played there," said Nevada coach Devin Scruggs, who is in her ninth season. "I thought it was a nice atmosphere when the volleyball festival played their finals in Lawlor (in 2004).
"It certainly will be a more even playing field for all the teams. However, I still like the intimate atmosphere that the Virginia Street Gym provides."
Hawaii coach Dave Shoji agrees.
"Nevada is pretty comfortable at Virginia Street and Lawlor will make it fairer," he said. "Personally, I like Virginia Street. A big arena is only good if there's people in there. If you don't draw, then it doesn't lend itself to a very good atmosphere.
"If it's packed, then it's good for the sport. We might be at a slight disadvantage, playing on someone's home court, but if that's what's best for the league, then we all have to give up something sometimes."
Hawaii has given up very little on the road since joining the WAC in 1996. The Wahine haven't lost on any opponent's home court in 35 matches, dating back to a five-game nonconference loss at Pacific on Nov. 24, 2001.
In the past nine-plus seasons as a WAC member, Hawaii is 77-5 overall when taking on the host team. Only once has a loss come in regular-season conference play, back in 1998 at Brigham Young; the Wahine's regular-season WAC away record is 66-1.
In a testament to Hawaii's league dominance -- the Wahine have 100 straight WAC matchups -- only two of those road matches have gone to five. Both were victories, at Fresno State in 2002 and last year at Nevada where Hawaii rallied to win the final two games 32-30 and 15-13.
The Wolf Pack have struggled a bit since losing their first conference match on Oct. 8 at the Stan Sheriff Center. Nevada scored just 40 total points, the fewest points scored against Hawaii since rally scoring was implemented in 2001.
Last week, the Pack won a five-gamer with UNLV then dropped five-gamers at both San Jose State and Fresno State. Nevada's all-conference senior middle Salaia Salave'a -- the team leader in kills, digs, blocks and hitting percentage -- has been mostly limited to the back row after re-spraining her ankle on Oct. 15.
"I don't know if Salaia will be able to play front row (tomorrow)," said Scruggs, who is 0-15 against the Wahine. "She is very frustrated that it is taking longer to heal this time. But her replacement, Brianne Davis, has done an excellent job.
"We really need to keep our offense more balanced and rely on multiple players to be effective. Last week was very frustrating. Both matches could have gone either way. We are looking forward to Hawaii and I am hoping that we will have healthy bodies to compete with them the way we know we can."
The Wahine are expecting the Nevada team that took them to five twice last season to show up tomorrow.
"They're having their ups and downs but they'll be fired up and ready for us," said UH sophomore middle Juliana Sanders, the reigning WAC player of the week. "They're a tough team with great players. We have to be mentally tough and physically prepared.
"We have to bring our 'A' game because they're going to be waiting for us."
Nevada is 10-3 at home this season, winning its last nine at the Virginia Street Gym, including all five WAC meetings. The Wolf Pack average only 365 fans, but expects closer to the 941 that attended last year's match with the Wahine.
Scruggs said she hadn't decided on her setter. Junior transfer Ashley Miller played against Hawaii earlier this month while junior Tristin Johnson remained in Reno rehabbing a strained MCL. Both played in last week's three matches, although Johnson saw more time.
"We need to be ready," Shoji said. "They might be down but they have a lot of weapons, a lot of excellent players.
"We're preparing for two tough matches this week. Fresno State's been playing well but we can't think about them yet."