RAINBOW WAHINE VOLLEYBALL
Wahine are not looking past LaTech
No one would blame Heather Mazeitis for feeling a bit overlooked this week. Like a high school band opening for the Rolling Stones.
Her Louisiana Tech team has the unenviable task of playing the Western Athletic Conference's two ranked teams back to back, on the road, as the lightly regarded warm-up to Sunday's "Showdown." THE match between No. 14 Hawaii and No. 20 New Mexico State that will determine the WAC's regular-season champion.
LATECH AT NO. 14 HAWAII
When: Tomorrow, 6:30 p.m.
Where: Stan Sheriff Center
TV: KFVE (Ch. 5)
Radio: KKEA (1420-AM)
Series: Hawaii leads 8-0
Next up: No. 20 New Mexico State (29-1, 12-1), 5 p.m. Sunday
In a word: brutal. And not just because of the schedule that put LaTech on the road four straight matches, a trek that began last week with 0-3 losses at Boise State and Idaho.
"We have finals week next week, so my players have been home for one day the two weeks prior to finals," Mazeitis said. "That is tough on them."
The season has been equally tough on the Lady Techsters, winless in 13 WAC matches this year, seven in straight sets. That futility includes last night's 30-21, 30-18, 34-32 loss to the host Aggies in 95 minutes.
LaTech, which opened the year with six straight losses, has dropped its last eight and 14 of 15. The last victory was a sweep of Centenary on Oct. 10.
"I really thought we were much improved over last year's team," Mazeitis said of the 2005 squad that was 15-18 overall and 2-14 in WAC. "And yet we can make no headway in conference because everyone else is better. Absolutely, this is the strongest the WAC has been since we joined."
Not only is she fighting the school's tradition of being a power in women's basketball, there's also a lack of volleyball tradition in the state. Only the southern portions of Louisiana sponsor the sport at the high school level.
"And with (Hurricane) Katrina last year, even the kids that played lost their season," Mazeitis said, "so it has been difficult getting any new progress in that area.
"But we are trying."
LaTech has just one senior, outside hitter Ambra Hayes, who made the WAC all-tournament team last season.
"So, there's a lot of good things for us in the future," Mazeitis said. "We are young and slowly getting better, but they must put every loss behind them every time they step out on the floor.
SB FILE / NOVEMBER 2005
Ambra Hayes, seen here hitting against Hawaii's Tara Hittle last season, is Louisiana Tech's only senior.
"To get over the hump, my players just need to believe in themselves."
Meanwhile, the Rainbow Wahine are in need of some validation as well. The Hawaii players believe they are the best team in the WAC, but have to prove it on the court, tomorrow and especially Sunday.
New Mexico State handed Hawaii its first WAC loss since 1998 -- a stretch of 114 consecutive regular-season matches -- in Las Cruces, N.M., on Oct. 13.
"We're just hoping our fans will come out Sunday," said senior setter Kanoe Kamana'o, who broke the WAC's career record for assists last week at Idaho. "Not just because it's senior night. Hopefully we'll have a great home-court advantage and our crowd can back us up."
Kamana'o is one of three Wahine seniors playing their last regular-season home match Sunday. The others are reserve setter Cayley Thurlby and outside hitter Sarah Mason.
Although Hawaii will host one of the NCAA regionals, there is no guarantee that the Wahine will be home for the first and second rounds.
"We're looking at LaTech as another game to get better," junior middle Kari Gregory said. "We're not looking past them. They're probably better this year than they have been but their record doesn't show it. They were tough when we played them on the road."
"We know everyone is looking forward to Sunday," Wahine coach Dave Shoji added, "but we have to focus on Friday's match with Louisiana Tech first."