GEORGE F. LEE / GLEE@STARBULLETIN.COM
Jamie Houston went up for a block during the Wahine's sweep of LaTech on Friday night.
Rainbow Wahine hoping not to make history tonight
A loss to NMSU would close UH's home schedule with some bad precedents
Consider this the Mercury Transit for the Western Athletic Conference volleyball solar system.
New Mexico State at Hawaii
When: Today, 5 p.m.
Where: Stan Sheriff Center
TV: KFVE (Ch. 5)
Series: Hawaii leads 18-1
Not only can No. 14 Hawaii avenge a rare league defeat this evening, but do it on senior night, and while all but clinching the regular-season championship ... for the 11th straight year.
Rarer still, No. 20 New Mexico State can become the first team to sweep a regular-season series with the Rainbow Wahine since Hawaii joined the WAC in 1996. Not to mention, a victory by the Aggies would be the first WAC home loss for the Wahine ... ever.
There may have been bigger matches in the history of the Hawaii program -- the 1987 NCAA regional against Pacific in Klum Gym comes to mind -- but the Wahine players have had enough history lessons this year. It was under their watch that the 114-match WAC winning streak ended, back on Oct. 13 in Las Cruces, N.M., in five after 2 1/2 hours.
Which team has the most pressure to perform, has the most riding on tonight? Hard to say.
But the Hawaii players know they don't need any more footnotes for the 2006 season, such as becoming:
» the first group to lose a WAC match at the Stan Sheriff Center after 89 straight;
» the first to lose more than five matches in the Sheriff Center during a year;
» only the second to lose at home on senior night since 1993.
"We're very excited about this one," Wahine junior middle Juliana Sanders said after yesterday's practice. "We've been thinking about this. We are going to go out and play aggressive, get a good jump on them.
"This practice was a good way to prepare. It's going to be very sad with senior night, but we want to make it the best it can be for them."
And that would be with a victory over the Aggies, whose only loss of the year came in five at Nevada on Sept. 30. Wahine coach Dave Shoji made no secret of what he thought the keys to winning would be: take care of passing; hold the NMSU middles to less than 30 percent hitting (juniors Kim Oguh and Amber Simpson rank 2-3 in WAC hitting percentage); and not give up huge runs as happened last month.
Hawaii was poised for a sweep, leading 28-25 in Game 3, only to have the Aggies score the final five points. The Wahine looked to be in control in Game 4, with a 20-13 advantage, but were outscored 17-4 to force Game 5.
Despite falling behind 7-2 in Game 5, Hawaii tied it at 7, but never took the lead. The Wahine held off two match points to close to 14-13 before junior outside hitter Anna Callis put down her 14th kill.
"We were outscored 24-6 at one stretch," Shoji said. "A lot of it was them, a lot of it was us. It was a match we thought we should have won, but we didn't.
"If our passing holds up, if we can hold their middles like we did the last time, we'll win the match. But we have to execute those skills. This is a big match for us and we're putting a lot of importance on it. Plus it's our seniors' last regular-season home match ... and it's not fun when you lose that last match at home."
The last time a Hawaii senior class lost on senior night was in 2002 when being swept by Stanford, the first loss of the year. The second defeat ended the season at 34-2, on another sweep by the Cardinal in the NCAA semifinal.
New Mexico State was nearly in this same position last season, when the Aggies played the Wahine the night before the last home match of the year. It went five, with Hawaii winning Games 1 and 2, and NMSU Games 3 and 4.
The Aggies led 12-11 in Game 5 only to have the Wahine score the final four points.
"We had our chances last year," Aggie coach Mike Jordan said yesterday. "Winning here would be huge for us. Winning the regular-season title would be a big deal.
"There's nothing season-ending on the line. I think we're both (already) in the NCAA tournament. But it is two very good teams playing each other, with the conference championship on the line. It's a good thing for the WAC and a good thing for us. We're excited about it.
"I don't know who has more pressure. It clearly matters to the players. Everybody likes a challenge."
Notes: Friday's win over Louisiana Tech gave Hawaii a 20-win season for the 28th time in the 33-year history of the program, including the last 14. New Mexico State has won at least 20 matches the past five seasons. ... Hawaii's conference home win streak is 89 in the WAC, 100 straight counting 11 victories in the Big West. UH's only Sheriff Center conference loss came in four against Big West opponent UC Santa Barbara on Nov. 10, 1994. The Wahine are 102-1 at the SSC in league play.