GEORGE F. LEE / GLEE@STARBULLETIN.COM
Hawaii middle blocker Kari Gregory graduated from The Meadows High School in Las Vegas.
Nevada threatens streak again
It's been an entertaining rivalry. One-sided, but still entertaining and very competitive.
Hawaii may have a 24-1 series edge on Nevada -- 16-0 against Devin Scruggs-coached Wolf Pack teams -- but, more often than not, the matches have been of great import. In the past four years, the teams twice have met in the conference tournament championship with the automatic NCAA berth on the line, and twice they've met in the tournament semifinal.
This afternoon, as it was last season, the outcome means one team remains undefeated in Western Athletic Conference play. The No. 15 Rainbow Wahine also put their 111-match WAC winning streak on the line, a streak that has most often been threatened by the Wolf Pack the past four years.
Nevada has taken Hawaii to five games twice, as well as going a hard-fought four games six times in the 16 WAC contests.
Missing from today's contest is the gregarious Salaia Salave'a, the focus of Hawaii's game plan the past four seasons, who has graduated.
"Salaia made you laugh," UH setter Kanoe Kamana'o said of the All-WAC middle blocker. "She was a tough hitter, put up a good block. She was a great player, something they will miss on their side, but it's good for us."
"It just means we'll focus on someone else," Wahine coach Dave Shoji said. "And their setter is a good place to start."
Nevada senior setter Tristan Johnson, in her fourth year as a starter, has been a problem for Hawaii. As a freshman, Johnson had 13 kills -- six in Game 1 -- and hit more than .600 against the Wahine in a four-game match in Reno.
"We've known she likes to attack, likes to dump," said Kamana'o, also in her fourth year as a starting setter. "We know if her team's not scoring, she'll do it herself. That's something we need to be conscious of. We've seen it before and we have to be ready."
Johnson had four kills in seven attempts with no errors in Wednesday's 85-minute sweep of Utah State. Proving Shoji's feeling that the Wolf Pack are more balanced without Salave'a, juniors Teal Ericson and Karly Sipherd each had 12 kills, freshman Sage Aune had nine and freshman Jorgan Staker added seven.
Ericson (.231) and senior Carly Sorensen (.000) were the only players to hit less than .500 against the Aggies. Nevada also outblocked Utah State 12-4.5, led by Aune's seven block assists and Staker's five.
"They've got good players and three veterans we've seen a lot of," Shoji said of Johnson, Ericson and Sipherd. "And I like their new right-side player (Staker). She gives them another dimension.
"What we need to do is the same thing we did the last time against them, about this time last year. Block, hit and block. I think we're more physical than they are, but we need to play the other parts of the game better than them."
Of concern is the Wolf Pack serve. Nevada has 89 aces, led by Johnson's 20 and 16 from freshman defensive specialist Lauren Kelly. Conversely, Hawaii has 63 aces, led by Sarah Mason's 21, and has given up 70 aces.
For the fourth time in six years, the teams meet first in Honolulu.
"What we need to do is play well and dominate them," Shoji said, "because if they beat us or come close to beating us, they'll be very motivated when we play up there. Nevada is a very tough place to play."
But so is the Sheriff Center, Scruggs said. The Wahine haven't lost a conference match in the arena since 1994 -- to UC Santa Barbara in Big West play -- and are 71-0 at home since joining the WAC in 1996, with a streak of 84 straight, including Big West matches.
"We're looking for ways to have success in Hawaii, but no one else in the conference has ever had it," Scruggs said. "They're a great team and it's tough to play there with the huge crowd and all the distractions.
"We haven't been successful away from home (2-5), but I'm excited that our first (WAC) road trip is against Hawaii. It's a big weekend for Nevada, with football (last night) there, too. We expect some of the fans to stay over for our match and my athletic director (Cary Groth) has never been to volleyball match in Hawaii. It's going to be fun for her to see how Hawaii supports volleyball."
Nevada upset then-No. 22 New Mexico State in five Sept. 30 in Reno. The Wolf Pack led by two games, then had to come back to win Game 5 15-13.
Scruggs said that Salave'a's departure has forced the team to become better balanced because the Wolf Pack have no real go-to hitter. Adding two freshman starters, including libero Kelly, and a new defensive specialist, junior transfer Randi Salis (Kamehameha) has created an interesting situation where everything is new for a lot of the players.
"Winning any time is OK with me," Scruggs said. "I'm not picky about how we win this year. A win is a win. The box score shows a 'W' or an 'L.' It's either a 'Win' or a 'Loss.' There is no 'U' for 'Ugly.'
Notes: Nevada's only victory over Hawaii came in 1992, a five-gamer that was the first meeting between the teams. It came during the only season the Wahine did not advance to the NCAA tournament. ... Today's match is part of UH's "Military Weekend" promotion. Members of the Armed Services, active and reserve, can buy two tickets for the price of one, with no limit. A valid military I.D. is required.