RAINBOW WAHINE VOLLEYBALL
GEORGE F. LEE / GLEE@STARBULLETIN.COM
Juliana Sanders and the Rainbow Wahine play Notre Dame at the Stan Sheriff Center tomorrow.
Wahine get to work tomorrow
It looked to be a good time to play volleyball in Hawaii, escaping the first cold weather of the season and catching the Rainbow Wahine after a five-matches-in-eight-days stretch.
Now Notre Dame coach Debbie Brown may not be so sure. The Irish did get out of Indiana ahead of a predicted cold spell, but they could be in for a chilly reception tomorrow when facing No. 11 Hawaii.
NOTRE DAME AT NO. 11 HAWAII
Where: Stan Sheriff Center
When: Tomorrow, 7 p.m.; Tuesday, 6 p.m.
TV: KFVE (Ch. 5)
Series: Hawaii leads 5-1
The Wahine are eager to get back to winning after seeing their Western Athletic Conference streak halted at 114 Friday night at No. 25 New Mexico State. Both teams arrived this afternoon, with Notre Dame having the happier flight; the Irish won their sixth straight Friday night, remaining unbeaten in the Big East at 6-0.
The midseason nonconference matches were important enough to both coaches to schedule a Monday-Tuesday series.
"It was the only time they could play and we couldn't pass up playing another quality team," Wahine coach Dave Shoji said.
Added Brown: "Hawaii is always a strong program and we want to play as strong a schedule as possible. It's a long way to go, after we play Friday and then play again this coming Friday (Connecticut), but it works well for us.
"This can only be beneficial for us. We're very young, sometimes have four freshmen out on the court. They're learning a lot and they'll get to play in a great place with a very knowledgeable crowd. Plus, there may be snow here and it's a nice time to go somewhere warm."
The heat will be on Hawaii to win tomorrow, not only to avoid a second consecutive loss, but to avoid losing five home matches for the first time since the Stan Sheriff Center opened in mid-1994. The Wahine have gone 14-4 twice at the Sheriff Center (1997 and 2005); they currently are 10-4 at home.
"I know they're having a rough start, by Hawaii standards," said Brown, co-captain of the 1980 U.S. Olympic team and captain of USC's national championship teams of 1976 and '77. "They've had the injuries, have had to play with a lot of different people. But they have plenty of weapons. Jamie (sophomore hitter Houston) is playing well and we'll have our hands full with her.
"But with us being so young, we have to be worried about our side of the net. We have much to improve on."
Notre Dame's freshmen continue to improve every match. Outside hitters Christina Kaelin and Serinity Phillips shared match-high honors Friday with nine kills in two games, Kaelin hitting .667 with one error and Phillips .429 with three errors in the 77-minute sweep of DePaul.
Freshman setter Jamel Nicholas came off the bench for 22 assists against the Blue Demons. Sophomore middle Justine Stremick and freshman opposite Megan Fesl each had seven kills.
"What I like about our team is the youthful energy," Brown said. "Everyone wants to get better and is working hard to do it.
"I'm disappointed with our start, especially with the losses to Arizona State and Kansas State (both in three). We didn't show up. I think the only time we were truly overmatched was against (then-No. 6) Santa Clara (also in three)."
The Irish opened the season 6-5, including five-game losses to then-No. 13 Missouri and at Northern Iowa. Since the 0-3 loss at Arizona State on Sept. 17, they've won six in a row.
"We had our opportunities against Missouri and Northern Iowa," Brown said. "The good thing is we've always bounced back."
Which is something Shoji hopes his team can do. Hawaii is back at practice this afternoon.
"I'm sure there are people in the WAC who are happy that we lost," Shoji said. "We certainly aren't.
"We know we needed to play better. We made a lot of errors, didn't convert the plays we needed to convert, and gave up too many streaks of points. New Mexico State is a good team, but Notre Dame is a better team. We can't dwell on the loss. We need to bounce back."
Note: Notre Dame won the first meeting with Hawaii, in 1992, the only time the Wahine didn't advance to the NCAA tournament.