FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
Tara Hittle and Juliana Sanders celebrated after the Rainbow Wahine won a point against Wisconsin last night.
It’s only a practice win, but Wahine will take it
Hawaii gets a little bit of revenge on Wisconsin for spoiling its unbeaten season 15 months ago
It is hardly fair to compare last night's volleyball exhibition between Hawaii and Wisconsin with the NCAA regional semifinal in Green Bay 15 months ago. The Rainbow Wahine weren't trying to keep their undefeated season going in their eighth straight road match, nor was there an elite eight berth on the line.
Whatever ghosts remained from that 2004 season-ending defeat in five to the Badgers were exorcised in the first three Hawaii-dominated games. Led by Jamie Houston's 22 kills -- 18 in the first three games -- an impressive block and an even more impressive defense, the Wahine defeated the Badgers 30-19, 30-23, 30-24, 30-32, 11-15 at the Stan Sheriff Center.
(The coaches agreed to play five games, regardless of the score).
"After losing to them two years ago and to win the first three games, it felt good to get back at them," Wahine setter Kanoe Kamana'o said. "We know it wasn't the real Wisconsin -- they didn't have their starting setter. But still ... it was good."
Hawaii coach Dave Shoji said he saw more good things than bad, especially given the revolving door where he used all 14 available players. The only constant was libero Raeceen Woolford, who is trying to fill the shoes of UH single-season dig leader* Ashley Watanabe.
"I liked how Raeceen played," Shoji said. "We really need that position filled and she's a step ahead of the field."
Watanabe watched from a sideline seat as Woolford finished with 10 digs. She even had a kill during Game 4.
"It was really nice to get back on the court, see someone other than ourselves," Woolford said. "It was good to test our resilience today, which we had to do after Game 3. We know we can't be complacent."
Charlie Wade was not at all surprised by how well the Wahine played. The former associate coach, who was hired by Pacific in January, was among the 3,277 in attendance last night, watching from the end-zone riser.
"How can you be (surprised) when you have All-American talent at every position?" Wade asked. "It's an impressive collection of physical talent and a really good team."
The tougher evaluation will have to eventually be made by Shoji, who got fairly solid results despite using a seemingly equal number of lineups. He was particularly pleased with the play of outside hitter Tara Hittle, who continued to bring energy to the game, as well as a few laughs when slipping out of her shoe and falling in Game 1.
"Everyone can see that Tara's all-round game is superior," Shoji said.
Hittle finished with 13 kills and a match-high 15 digs.
It was also evident just how tough the battle is going to be for the middle blocker position vacated by departed All-American Victoria Prince. Kari Gregory and Nickie Thomas both made an early case to earn the starting spot -- Gregory with six kills and six blocks, Thomas with 10 kills and five blocks.
"I thought all our middles hit for good percentage," Shoji said. "At times our block looked good."
The Wahine outblocked the Badgers, 15.5-12.5, although the margin was 12.5-5.5 after Game 3.
Wisconsin coach Pete Waite didn't know what to expect after having to replace two-year starting setter Jackie Simpson, who broke her left hand Sunday. He went with reserve Katie Lorenzen and also had a number of players in new positions.
"It's going to take some time to get use to the new roles," Waite said. "I think our kids played kind of tight.
"Hawaii is a solid team, good ball-control. Dave played a lot of people at the end and it was good to see closer games at the end.
Maria Carlini led Wisconsin with 18 kills and Amy Bladow 16.
Friday, March 17, 2006
In a Thursday article about the Wahine volleyball team, Ashley Watanabe was mistakenly referred to as the UH "career dig-leader." It should have noted that Watanabe is the UH "single-season dig leader."