Rainbow Wahine in a rare WAC race
Hawaii's loss to New Mexico State last month may have changed the national perception of the Rainbow Wahine, but it hasn't changed the thinking of the rest of the coaches in the Western Athletic Conference.
No. 16 Hawaii at Utah State
When: Today, 5 p.m. Hawaii time
Radio: Live, 1420-AM
Take Utah State, Hawaii's opponent tonight. This is Aggies first-year coach Grayson DuBose's second shot at knocking off the Wahine, and he knows his team will have to play well to defeat Hawaii for the first time since 1980, when the two schools were AIAW powers.
"The biggest concern for me in playing UH is that I want our kids to take care of our side of the net," DuBose said. "If we get caught up in who we are playing and forget what we are trying to accomplish on our side then we get in trouble. We have set some standards as a team that we focus on every day in practice and we feel like if we can achieve those standards we will have success.
The rebuilding Aggies did not have much success last month in Honolulu, when the Wahine needed just 85 minutes to sweep. No Utah State player had more than eight kills, while Hawaii had three players with 12 or more kills.
The 16th-ranked Wahine had three players with 10 or more kills in Thursday's win at Nevada. Hawaii flew from Reno to Salt Lake City yesterday before making the 90-minute drive to Logan.
While the Wahine (18-5, 10-1) are coming off a sweep of Nevada, Utah State (12-7, 5-6) had the week to prepare for Hawaii. It was beneficial for his team, DuBose said.
"With only having the one match this week, I was able to give the kids a few days off to have some recovery time," he said. "At this point in the season, recovery time is very valuable. So that has been our focus, getting some therapy and school work done.
"UH is a very nice volleyball team, and for us to have a chance to beat them we will need to execute a great game plan. If we can limit their opportunities, it makes it easier on us. But they have been able to stay in system for longer periods of time than we have been able to."
Hawaii was somewhat out of system in Thursday night's win at Nevada. With the Wolf Pack stacking the block against Jamie Houston, the conference's top hitter, the Wahine offense had to figure a way to win.
They did, relying on senior hitter Sarah Mason (13 kills) and junior middle Juliana Sanders (12) for a combined 25 kills. Houston had 10 kills. Hawaii also got five kills apiece from junior middle Kari Gregory and freshman Amber Kaufman.
Senior setter Kanoe Kamana'o was 3-for-3 on dumps in addition to becoming the WAC's all-time assist leader.
"Our biggest concerns are the ability they have to score from every position," DuBose said. "We have faced very few teams this season that have such a great complement of players. They are loaded at every position.
"I know they have had some unfortunate injuries, but then they just plug another player in and they do not really lose a beat. Their depth is a concern for me."
Hawaii took the allowable 12 players on the road. Making her first road trip was freshman defensive specialist Rayna Kitaguchi.
Kitaguchi did not play against the Wolf Pack, but sophomore Elise Duggins did, making her first start at defensive specialist. She had eight digs in playing right-back for Kaufman.
"It was something I decided on (Thursday)," Wahine coach Dave Shoji said of the Kaufman-Duggins sub.
Both teams appear healthy going into tonight's match. Hawaii has nagging injuries that the Wahine have played through and Utah State is slowly bringing back freshman middle Dani Taylor (severe ankle sprain).
"Other than that, it's just the usual nicks and bruises that occur during the course of a long season," DuBose said.
Hawaii, which has won 18 straight against USU, had a good practice yesterday at the spacious Dee Glen Smith Center (10,270), according to Shoji. But the Wahine are not taking the Aggies lightly.
"We always have concerns with the other team," Shoji said. "They're physical, very much like a men's team, and they do some things we have to pay attention to and be aware of.
"As a coach, I'm not happy with how we played at Nevada. But we won fairly easily and didn't play that well. We know that (tonight) is an important match for us."
Hawaii remains tied with No. 23 New Mexico State for the WAC lead. The Aggies (27-1, 10-1) are at third-place Idaho (8-14, 7-3) tonight.