FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
Senior setter Kanoe Kamana'o is one of the reasons why the Rainbow Wahine are the WAC champions again this season.
Wahine await word
Hawaii will find out today whether it will play at home or travel for a first-round match
RENO, Nev. » Come. Stay. Go?
NCAA Selection Show
Time: 10 a.m.-11 a.m.
The 12th-ranked Hawaii volleyball team returned home today, thinking about the one big question mark. Will the Rainbow Wahine be home this week to host a first round for the first time since 2003? Or will they be shipped off to the mainland, hoping to return to play in the Honolulu Regional at the Stan Sheriff Center Dec. 8-9.
Hawaii has done it all it can, playing one of the toughest preseason schedules in the country. The Wahine faced five teams currently ranked in the Top 25, going 3-4 with all of their losses but one to a higher-ranked team: No. 3 Stanford, No. 4 UCLA, No. 7 Florida and No. 15 Cal Poly.
Hawaii also beat No. 24 Pepperdine twice while gaining a split with Cal Poly. The Wahine can also claim a 2-1 advantage over No. 21 New Mexico State, including their convincing win over the Aggies on Friday for their seventh Western Athletic Conference championship.
It should be enough to get Hawaii a top-16 seed but is it enough to keep the Wahine home this week? Despite their seeding the past two years -- third in 2004, seventh in 2005 -- the NCAA has put Hawaii on what became a two-week road trip when the Wahine won their first two matches to advance to the sweet 16.
All season, Hawaii has thought about today's selection show. First, wanting to have the WAC's automatic bid; second, hoping for the best but prepared for the worst.
"I don't have any feeling for what the NCAA will do to us," Wahine coach Dave Shoji said. "We won the WAC title two years ago, they sent us out (to Colorado State and eventually Green Bay). We won it last year and they sent us out (to Texas and eventually Penn State).
"We'll watch the show Sunday. If we have to go, we have to go. But it would be nice to stay home."
The Wahine have been on the road since Nov. 13, finishing the regular season at Boise State and Idaho before heading to Reno for the WAC tournament. If Hawaii is awarded a sub-region this week, the matches would be played Thursday and Friday.
The winner of the subregional remains in Honolulu for regional play Dec. 8-9.
Despite losing to Hawaii Friday, New Mexico State (33-3) feels better about its NCAA tournament chances than last season when the Aggies lost in the WAC semifinal. NMSU has two Top 25 wins, the first in five over No. 17 San Diego.
The other was even bigger. It was over Hawaii in Las Cruces on Oct. 13, a five-game marathon that ended the Wahine's regular-season WAC winning streak at 114.
"We're excited and I have a good feeling," Aggie senior setter Jackie Choi said. "But I had a good feeling last year. I feel better about this year.
"Hopefully, we'll get a good draw but we know we'll have to play very hard, whoever we see."
Although the NCAA committee says it "tries to keep" teams in their geographic regions, it's going to be tough this year with three of the top four teams -- the possible top four seeds -- all from the Pac-10 in No. 2 Washington, No. 3 Stanford and No. 4 UCLA.
The defending NCAA champion Huskies will stay at home for the Seattle regional but where the other three top seeds go is a mystery.
Besides Honolulu and Seattle, the other regional sites are at Gainesville, Fla. (hosted by No. 7 Florida) and Austin, Texas (hosted by No. 8 Texas).
New Mexico State coach Mike Jordan said he didn't care where his team was sent, as long as it went somewhere. NMSU did not put in a bid to host this week so the Aggies knew they'd be on the road if selected.
"You look at the possibilities and you just don't know," he said.
"You think the Texas regional makes sense but where for the first round? Utah? Somewhere in southern California? I really don't know."
The biggest question is whether the WAC will get a third team as it has the past two seasons. The only possible choice is San Jose State (19-12), the team eliminated by Hawaii in a WAC semifinal Thursday. The Spartans' record is the best since the 2001 team finished 25-8 and advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament.
Spartan coach Craig Choate said the team's goal was to win a WAC tournament match to get to 19 wins. San Jose State did, ousting host Nevada. The Spartans were 7-4 in their last 11 matches, with the losses coming to Hawaii twice and New Mexico State twice. They also lost to current No. 23 Santa Clara, falling in five after being up 2-0, and lost three other preseason matches in five.
Choate wondered how much his team's chances would have been enhanced with a few more wins that would have put the Spartans over the 20-win mark.
"What we wanted to do was win that first (WAC tournament) match to give ourselves a chance with the (selection) committee," Choate said.
"I don't think they'll hold the loss to Hawaii against us. But I don't know what's going to happen."
Sixty-four teams will find out today where their respective seasons will continue.