PacWest volleyball on outside looking in
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It's only fitting that a bunch of new-look Pacific West Conference teams take to the court in commissioner Bob Hogue's first year on the job.
For a variety of reasons, Brigham Young-Hawaii, Hawaii Pacific, Hawaii-Hilo and Chaminade have all restocked and reloaded extensively over the offseason. No team has fewer than five newcomers.
The bad news is, it could be tough for any of those teams to get a good look at postseason action in volleyball -- a team will require an at-large berth from the NCAA.
Because the PacWest is still waiting for recent additions Notre Dame de Namur (Calif.) and Dixie State (Utah) to become full-fledged NCAA members, the conference doesn't have the requisite six NCAA institutions for its regular-season winners to receive automatic postseason berths this year, Hogue explained. That includes volleyball, but if things go as planned, the PacWest will start to receive invitations next year.
Any of the seven schools (including Arizona's Grand Canyon University) can still win PacWest conference regular-season titles.
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When they gathered for the Pacific West Conference volleyball media day last week, the consensus among the conference's four Hawaii-based coaches was that nobody knew where they stood this year.
Even the top dog is at a loss to predict what will happen.
"Hilo has recruited some great players, HPU has recruited some great players, and Chaminade is always tough," Brigham Young-Hawaii coach Wilfred Navalta said. "We had some problems with Grand Canyon last year, so I really feel the competition and the parity will be much closer. To me, we're not the preseason favorites but I think we'll be contenders for the title."
He'll soon find out.
Play for three of Hawaii's four NCAA Division II teams starts in the 14th annual Hawaiian Style Classic this week in Hilo, running tomorrow through Saturday.
Hawaii Pacific opens up against Alaska-Fairbanks tomorrow, while Hawaii-Hilo takes on Briar Cliff (Utah) and Cal State-Monterey Bay on Friday and Chaminade plays UA-Fairbanks and Briar Cliff the same day.
The Hawaii teams will not play each other in the tournament.
Nineteenth-ranked Brigham Young-Hawaii plays in the Cal State-Los Angeles/Cal-Poly Pomona Tournament on Friday and Saturday to open its season.
No. 19 BYUH Seasiders
20-1, 15-0 PacWest
Coach: Wilfred Navalta (23rd year, 509-97, .840 winning percentage)
Preseason pick: First place (6 of 7 first-place votes)
Preseason all-conferece: LeeAnn Mapu S (preseason Player of the Year), Noelle Filimoeatu OH, Faylynn Merrick MB.
The losses of outside hitters Tuli Peters (PacWest best 5.56 kills per game) and Christina Bobik for personal reasons before their senior years hurt, as did the departure of Roseanne Vea on a mission to Portugal. Coach Wilfred Navalta estimated that his team lost 50 percent of its offense and defense after finishing the season ranked No. 15 nationally last year.
Now, the No. 19 Seasiders, picked to win the conference by the PacWest coaches, will rely heavily on preseason Player of the Year LeeAnn Mapu to get the team's many newcomers involved: Navalta needs to incorporate five true freshmen into the mix.
While the other three Hawaii-based PacWest schools will battle it out in the 14th Annual Hawaiian Style Classic in Hilo, BYUH kicks off the season in California for the Cal State Los Angeles/Cal Poly-Pomona Tournament, then hosts the Hawaii Invitational in Laie at the end of the month.
17-6, 11-4 PacWest
Coach: Glennie Adams (15th year, 154-164, .480 winning percentage)
Preseason pick: Second place (1 of 7 first-place votes)
Preseason all-conference picks: Evelyn Bluthenthal MB/OH, Trina Kauliakamoa, OH.
The Silverswords enjoy the most senior leadership of any of the Hawaii-based PacWest schools, with preseason all-conference blocker/hitter Evelyn Bluthenthal, libero Krista Catian, and middle blocker Lila Sapolu, but coach Glennie Adams thinks chemistry will be the key for Chaminade this year.
Trina Kauliakamoa, the team leader in kills last year at 4.23 per game, and Bluthenthal at 3.70 will provide the 'Swords with the same one-two punch they enjoyed last season.
"We have a really great group of (five) freshmen coming in, and our setter, (Tatiana Alvino) we're really glad to be playing with her," Bluthenthal said.
Adams was still tinkering with her starting six, and also has the freshmen, including Alvino, to work into the mix.
"I have to agree with Wil (Navalta) that on any given day any one of us can beat up on each other," Adams said. "I don't think there's one team that stands out ahead of the rest."
HPU Sea Warriors
9-15, 6-9 PacWest
Coach: Daryl Kapis (2nd year, 9-15, .380 winning percentage)
Preseason pick: Fourth place
Preseason all-conference picks: none
Now that he's gotten acclimated to his team, second-year coach Daryl Kapis thinks his Sea Warriors -- boasting nine newcomers -- could be quite formidible this year.
He's hoping setter Jackie Tomas, a transfer from Pierce College (Calif.), can lead the team to big things. She was tops in California junior college assists last season.
"I think last year, it was me getting to know all the girls," said Kapis, who previously compiled a 63-27 mark at San Jose City College. "That takes a long time if you don't know anybody. This year, I know all the players we recruited and all the players who are returning."
The graduated Barbara Martin's 4.94 kills per game (third in the conference) will be missed. Outside hitter Melissa Aki is the team's lone senior.
Of the new faces, Kapis expects four to start instantly. Candice Kolkka, a freshman from California, will challenge Tomas for the setter spot. Five are junior college transfers.
"Like Glennie (Adams) said, our team will also be about chemistry," Kapis said. "It's just a matter of them meshing."
4-18, 3-12 PacWest
Coach: Dr. Bruce Atkinson (first year)
Preseason pick: Sixth place
Preseason all-conference picks: none
Brigham Young-Hawaii alum Dr. Bruce Atkinson becomes Hawaii-Hilo's third coach in as many seasons, and faces the tall task of returning the once proud program to respectability.
The Vulcans went with a massive recruiting effort -- adding 13 players -- to replace the departed Taina Savage's 5.50 kills per game. There isn't a senior on Hilo's roster this year.
Sophomore blocker/hitter Kaniu Hernandez is the team's only returning starter. Atkinson is counting on a pair of Brazilians out of Seminole State (OK) College, Josimara Pinheiro and Fabiane Seben, for some instant offense.
"They're both real good kids, academically strong, and they're going to be able to help us out quite a bit on the court," said Atkinson, who went 28-11 last year at the University of Texas at Brownsville. "We're excited, hopefully trying to be a little more competetive than we've been in recent years."
The Vulcans host the 14th Hawaiian Style Classic running tomorrow through Saturday, featuring Chaminade, Hawaii Pacific, Cal-State Monterey Bay, Alaska-Fairbanks, Rollins College (Fla.), Briar Cliff (Iowa), Texas Woman's University and Houston Baptist.