Rainbow Wahine play out the string
Hawaii has already won the WAC and needs to prepare for the postseason
Now to exceed them.
No. 9 Hawaii heads into this final week of the regular season having already clinched its 10th straight Western Athletic Conference title. That was expected as early as last August when the other eight league coaches voted the Rainbow Wahine the preseason No. 1.
And, as early as last Dec. 11 -- the night after Hawaii was eliminated from the NCAA tournament -- the Wahine knew what they wanted this season ... a trip to the final four. The goal for this week -- and next week at the WAC tournament -- is to continue to raise the level of play and be ready for the postseason.
First up is New Mexico State, just one of two conference teams to not go down in straight sets against Hawaii (20-6, 14-0) this season. The Aggies (19-5, 11-4) had a chance to end the Wahine's five-year WAC winning streak Oct. 1 when taking a 2-0 lead in front of a record crowd at the Pan American Center.
Hawaii rallied to win in five in what the Wahine have called the turning point of their season. They have extended the winning streak to a nation-best 105.
New Mexico State, fighting to keep the second seed for next week's tourney, would like nothing better than to return the favor at the Stan Sheriff Center.
"I think we're a better defensive team than we were on Oct. 1 and I think we're finally a more balanced team offensively," Aggie coach Mike Jordan said prior to his team leaving yesterday for Honolulu. "I felt our left-side hitters wore down a little physically against Hawaii so we need to be more balanced.
"We had success against them the first time on a few things so we're going to try to do those things again and execute a little better. We're also going to get a few more people involved so we don't wear down so quickly."
Stepping up most recently for the Aggies has been senior hitter Sarah Silagy, who had just five kills the last time the teams met. She had a combined 38 kills with just two errors as the Aggies won matches against New Mexico, Louisiana Tech and Utah State.
NMSU has lost just once since facing Hawaii, that at Idaho. The Aggies' two other WAC losses were also on the road, at Nevada and Utah State.
"It's been difficult to win on the road," Jordan said of his first year in the WAC. "New travel, new gyms, good teams. But we are where I thought we could be. I thought at the beginning of the year if we stayed reasonably healthy we could finish second."
So far, the Aggies have met Jordan's expectations. Now the goal is to do well enough over the next 10 days to make the NCAA tournament for the third straight year.
"I'd be disappointed if we didn't get three teams in the NCAA tournament," Jordan said. "Every coach in the WAC has told me how much stronger the conference is this year. (Besides Hawaii) I think us, USU and Nevada are all worthy.
"I do think the WAC could eventually be the type of conference where we see four teams going on a regular basis."
Wahine associate coach Charlie Wade agreed.
"From the start of the season, I thought we were a legitimate four- (NCAA bid) team conference," Wade said. "Three teams for sure are deserving.
"New Mexico State ... they're good. They have good size, good athleticism. They can score. They hit and block as well as any team in the league.
"But I think we've made pretty good progress since we last played them. We have been able to elevate our level of play higher than we ever did before we played them. Hopefully we can continue to do that."
Hawaii will have to do it this week without junior hitter Sarah Mason, the team leader in kills (4.00 kpg) who had a match-high 19 kills in last month's win over the Aggies. Mason, who again missed practice yesterday, will sit out this week's matches due to a sprained right ankle.
She may be available for next week's WAC tourney
Tomorrow: New Mexico State (19-5, 11-4) at No. 9 Hawaii (20-6, 14-0), 7 p.m., Stan Sheriff Center
Friday: Louisiana Tech (15-16, 2-13) at Hawaii, 7 p.m., Stan Sheriff Center
TV: Both live, KFVE (Ch.5)
Radio: Both live, KKEA (1420-AM)
Series: Hawaii leads NMSU, 17-0; leads LaTech, 5-0
Through November 13
|New Mexico St.
|San Jose State
x-clinched regular-season title
Utah State def. Louisiana Tech, 30-28, 30-17, 24-30, 32-30
y-Nevada def. UC Davis, 30-21, 30-21, 30-16
New Mexico State at Hawaii, 7 p.m., Stan Sheriff Center
Fresno State at Idaho
San Jose State at Boise State
Louisiana Tech at Hawaii, 7 p.m., Stan Sheriff Center
San Jose State at Idaho
Fresno State at Boise State
Nevada at Utah State
END REGULAR SEASON