JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
Hawaii's Jessica Keefe put a kill past Cal Poly's Sarah Riviere during last night's match at the Stan Sheriff Center.
Rainbow Wahine rally past Poly for much-needed win
Hawaii comes back after trailing two games to none to gain a split with the Mustangs
It was about more than winning.
About more than rebounding from Thursday's disappointing five-game loss. About more than avoiding some history, all of it bad.
Next up vs. Fresno St., next Saturday
Last night was about being able to breathe again. And the sigh of relief likely made it down to Sarah Mason's hometown of Hilo. Heck, maybe all the way to Florida, where Jamie Houston's family has relocated.
No. 12 Hawaii capped a soul-searching 2 hours and 40 minutes with a soul-lifting victory over No. 12 Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. A Stan Sheriff Center crowd of 4,874 (6,665 tickets) saw the Rainbow Wahine finally wear down the Mustangs 29-31, 27-30, 30-23, 30-28, 15-12.
On a night where no lead was safe, Hawaii got a career-high-tying 28 kills from Houston -- including the match-ender on the fifth match point -- an impressive rally in Game 4 and mental toughness in Game 5 to improve to 6-4 heading into next Saturday's Western Athletic Conference home opener with Fresno State.
"It was a really big win, especially going into conference play," senior setter Kanoe Kamana'o said. She had 13 digs and five blocks in addition to 69 assists. "Both teams have equal talent and just like Dave (UH coach Shoji) said last night, the team that was mentally the toughest would win."
"It was a huge win for us," added junior middle Kari Gregory, turning in a double-double (10 kills, 10 blocks). "We talked about it before the game, that this could set the tone for the rest of the season. It was really important to play with confidence."
That confidence kicked in right about the time Shoji was saying goodbye to his son Kawika, who was flying out last night with mother Mary to begin his freshman year at Stanford. That was between Games 2 and 3 and "not a happy time for a lot of reasons," Shoji said. "But they listened to the game on the radio heading to the airport and they know we won.
"I thought we fought hard, showed a lot of heart in Game 3 and even more in Game 4. And Game 5 ... at 14-12 there were fleeting thoughts of what happened (Thursday) and I'm sure everyone in the arena was taking a deep breath."
JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
Hawaii's Jamie Houston tried to get a kill past Cal Poly's Ashleigh Bertoni during last night's match.
On Thursday, the Mustangs were able to rally from 14-11 to win it 17-15. Last night, they trailed at 14-8 before making a run to pull to 14-12.
This time Hawaii held, with Houston putting down her final kill.
In the process, the Wahine avoided being swept by the Mustangs in a series for just the second time, and the first since 1985, when the teams were in the Big West. And Hawaii avoided dropping three in a row for the first time since 1997, what would have been just the ninth time in its 33 years of competition.
The key was in Game 4 when Shoji, down to two middles with the knee injury to Nickie Thomas, burned freshman Amber Kaufman's planned redshirt year, inserting her when trailing 11-9. The chemistry change eventually worked its magic, with the Wahine able to rally from down 19-12 to a 20-19 lead behind the serving of Elise Duggins.
At 27-27, kills by Mason and Houston gave Hawaii game point. Cal Poly held off one attempt but not the second, when Gregory and Kamana'o blocked Alicia Waller to force a fifth game for the second straight night.
"We were stuck in a rotation and we needed a lift," Shoji said of his decision to put in Kaufman. "I put her in to see if she could contribute. I hadn't planned on using her in such a critical situation, but she put down two key kills."
Mason turned in another double-double (14 kills, 12 digs) and Juliana Sanders had 13 kills.
Kylie Atherstone led Cal Poly (7-4) with 24 kills, while Jaclyn Houston added 18, Waller 16 and Ashleigh Bertoni 15.
Hawaii is now 3-1 in five-game matches, Cal Poly 4-2.
"I think we are a bit worn down from this long trip," Mustang coach Jon Stevenson said of his fourth consecutive road trip. "We just didn't have enough.
"In Game 4, we broke down in serve-receive. Meanwhile, Hawaii was making good plays.
"We needed to play to win, not like the cliche says, play not to lose."
Note: Thomas, who injured her knee early in Game 1 Thursday, said her injury would be re-evaluated Monday. ... No box score was available last night.