RAINBOW WAHINE VOLLEYBALL
Wahine want to finish robustly
THE WEEK has started off well. Conference honors for Juliana Sanders. Families in town for Senior Night on Friday. An energized practice following a tough but successful road trip. For Hawaii, the trick is to end the week the same way.
The ninth-ranked Rainbow Wahine finish out the Western Athletic Conference regular season Thursday against New Mexico State and Friday against Louisiana Tech.
Both matches are critical, not only for momentum's sake heading into next week's WAC tournament in Reno. But there's also the NCAA Tournament seeding to think about.
This week is not the time to stumble.
"I can say that the season has gone way too fast," said Sanders, a sophomore middle who was named the WAC player of the week yesterday.
"I'm not ready for this week to happen, we've all been enjoying this season so much.
"It's possibly our last two games in the arena and we just want to play our best. We have to come out fired up and ready to go, play our best, especially against the Aggies. They played us tough at their place."
Sanders did her part last week to keep Hawaii undefeated in the WAC at 14-0. She hit .476 with 12 kills and seven blocks in the five-game victory at Utah State that clinched the Wahine's 10th straight conference title. On Saturday against San Jose State, Sanders hit .800, with 12 kills and no errors in 15 swings and was in on six blocks.
"Juliana is becoming a real force and improving all the time," Wahine coach Dave Shoji said.
Hawaii's 14-game winning streak and 105 straight in conference play did nothing to improve the Wahine's standing in the latest CSTV/AVCA Division I Coaches Top 25 poll. While Hawaii (20-6) remained ninth, there was plenty of movement ahead of UH.
With Washington losing its first match of the year (at UCLA in five), Nebraska (25) is the unanimous No. 1, as well as the only undefeated team in the country.
Penn State (25-2) moved into second, trading places with Washington (23-1). Stanford and Florida also swapped places, with the Gators (25-2) going to fourth and the Cardinal (22-5) dropping to fifth.
Shoji said he was surprised that UCLA was able to beat Washington. The Wahine swept the Bruins in September and were swept by the Huskies twice the next week.
"But that happens if you're not up for every match," Shoji said.
A letdown is what Shoji wants to avoid this week. But he's not that worried; New Mexico State got Hawaii's attention when the Wahine played them in Las Cruces, a five-game win that the UH players continue to point to as the turning point of their season.
Hawaii had dropped 3-2 matches to both Penn State and Loyola Marymount prior to the match at New Mexico State.
"That was the first time we won a five-gamer and it was big for our confidence said senior middle Victoria Prince. "Now, when we've been in that situation, we have the feeling we're going to win.
"We know that as long as we do what we need to do then we'll win this week."
Injury update: Junior hitter Sarah Mason did not practice yesterday, but continued to rehab her sprained right ankle. Mason re-injured the ankle early in the match at Utah State.
Shoji said he was unsure whether Mason would be available to play this week.