Rainbow Wahine looking to WAC season
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To the rest of the volleyball world, there may appear to be some dents in the armor that has surrounded Hawaii for what seems to be forever in the Western Athletic Conference.
Idaho (3-6) at Hawaii (6-3)
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Sure, "The Streak" is over. Pau at 114, thanks to host New Mexico State after seven years and 361 days. But "The Streak" that matters -- the 11 consecutive conference titles -- is still very much intact.
"History is so hard to get rid of," Oscar Crespo, the first-year coach at San Jose State, said. "I don't think that the air of invincibility is gone at all.
"Hawaii is just young. They have the pieces. They'll be fine."
And so will San Jose State, at 6-4 just one of three WAC teams over .500 heading into this week's conference openers. No. 15 Hawaii (6-3) and New Mexico State (8-2) are the others.
The Rainbow Wahine, 156-2 during regular-season WAC play, put a couple of other streaks on the line tomorrow when hosting Idaho (3-6). Hawaii is:
» 11-0 in WAC openers;
» 90-0 in WAC home matches;
» and has won 101 consecutive conference matches at home, dating back to 1994 when in the Big West.
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Hawaii's logos have included the rainbow and the Polynesian-stylized 'H.'
The one the Rainbow Wahine volleyball team again should be wearing is a bull's-eye.
No. 15 Hawaii (6-3) opens its 12th Western Athletic Conference campaign tomorrow as everyone's favorite target. The Wahine's collective goals are to win a 12th title as well as get better every match in doing it.
"Maybe people are overlooking us because we didn't do too well in the preseason," junior hitter Jamie Houston, the WAC Preseason Player of the Year, said. "But that doesn't matter. It's how we play in the WAC that matters. As long as we keep playing like we did last weekend, we'll be fine."
There are many new faces on the rosters and talented returnees who should help give the WAC better balance.
"I think if you took a poll of the WAC coaches, me included, we've all got room for improvement," New Mexico State coach Mike Jordan said. "I think that the teams at the bottom are better.
"We and Hawaii are still looking for our identities, both with new setters. Just like they did last year (when starting 5-4), Hawaii will start peaking and only get better by the end."
The Wahine's biggest opponents could be themselves.
"Sometimes we are our own worst enemy," Hawaii coach Dave Shoji said. "There cannot be any letdown. We have to guard against our players thinking they can just show up."
A look at the teams, in order of the WAC coaches preseason poll (current records in parenthesis).
1. Hawaii (6-3)
After a tough preseason, which included an embarrassing sweep by Oregon State, the Rainbow Wahine are ready to move on to their "second" season.
Sophomore transfer Stephanie Brandt (12.40 apg, 10 aces) appears to have won the setting war. Freshman libero Elizabeth Ka'aihue (4.38 dpg) continues to improve in her newfound role as captain of the defense.
Junior All-America hitter Jamie Houston (4.91 kpg) has struggled with consistency but rebounded from an off-night last Thursday to finish as the Most Outstanding Player of last week's Waikiki Beach Marriott Challenge.
At least for the moment, expect to see junior hitter Tara Hittle (2.67 kpg) on the right and sophomore hitter Aneli Cubi-Otineru (3.43 kpg) at the L2. Senior Juliana Sanders (1.29 bpg, 2.17 kpg) should start this week in the middle, with the other spot up for grabs between sophomore Amber Kaufman (1.58 kpg, 0.96 bpg) and senior Kari Gregory (1.0 kpg, 1.15 bpg).
2. New Mexico State (8-2)
The Aggies upgraded their preseason schedule with three away tournaments, including a trip to No. 1 Nebraska and taking on No. 7 Texas in Houston. The pair of ranked opponents account for their two losses.
NMSU is coming off a sweep of visiting UTEP. Junior hitter Lindsey Yon (4.62 kpg), a transfer from Texas A&M, had 12 kills against the Miners. Again anchoring the Aggie offense is the 1-2 punch of senior middles Kim Oguh (3.32 kpg) and Amber Simpson (3.28 kpg).
Junior libero Krystal Torres already has 143 digs (4.77 dpg). NMSU is running a 6-2 with junior Alyssa Gintant (9.69 apg), an Iowa State transfer, and freshman Bryn Rodgers (5.41 apg) sharing setting duties.
T3. San Jose State (6-4)
After three weeks on the road, the Spartans were finally home last night, losing to San Francisco 30-24, 21-30, 25-30, 30-28, 16-14.
First-year coach Oscar Crespo, the former assistant at Nevada, said the team still needs to work on a few things, including finding an identity. He's used both a 5-1 and 6-2 offense, quite a feat considering that in spring he had no setters with graduating senior libero Jessie Shull setting. Last night, freshman Emily Burke (11.61 apg) ran the offense against the Dons.
Replacing Shull -- the school's career dig leader -- at libero this season is sophomore Kristal Tsukano (Kamehameha '06) who is averaging 4.41 dpg. Freshman hitter Brianna Amian (Moanalua '07) has worked her way into the starting lineup (2.44 kpg).
Senior hitter Jennifer Senftleben (4.17 kpg) is one of three All-WAC selections back for the Spartans. Also returning are junior middle Colleen Burke (2.62 kpg) and junior hitter Niki Clement (3.17 kpg).
Just as Hawaii would like to have its match against Oregon State back, the Spartans would like to replay the outing with Arkansas State (a 3-1 loss). Their other losses were in five, at New Mexico, at Utah Valley and last night.
T3. Idaho (3-6)
The Vandals are coming off two wins last week against San Francisco and UC Davis. Junior hitter Haley Larsen (5.52 kpg, 2.88 dpg) earned WAC weekly honors due in part to her 35 kills and 19 digs against UCD.
Idaho features a roster with all but two players 5-foot-10 and taller, including 6-3 sophomore middle Debbie Pederson (0.94 bpg) and 6-2 sophomore Anna McKinney (1.20 bpg).
Among the Vandals' losses are sweeps by then-No. 12 Cal and then-No. 21 Oklahoma and a 3-1 defeat by Oregon State.
5. Nevada (3-4)
The Wolf Pack, who have won every other match this year, are coming off a 1-2 showing at the AT&T Classic with losses to UNLV 3-1 and Washington State 3-0, and a 3-1 victory over Hofstra. In the win over The Pride, senior hitter Teal Ericson (4.92 kpg) had 31 kills, one short of the school record set by Lauren Netherby in 1998. Coincidentally, Netherby is the Hofstra coach.
Senior setter Ashley Miller (11.85 apg), who has five assists-digs double-doubles so far, is one assist away from becoming the eighth UN setter to reach 1,000. Senior middle Karly Sipherd (3.36 kpg, 1.48 bpg) had 21 blocks last weekend to move into second place on the Pack's career list.
Freshman hitter Kylie Harrington (St. Francis '07), out for the first four matches with a broken hand, started all three matches last weekend. Against Hofstra, she had 13 kills, 10 digs and five aces.
Nevada's biggest win came in five at Pepperdine.
6. Boise State (3-5)
After opening with sweeps over Texas-San Antonio and Cal State Fullerton, the Broncos have dropped five of their last six, including being swept by San Francisco last Saturday.
Leading BSU is sophomore hitter Arlee Tamietti (3.64 kpg, 0.92 bpg) and senior hitter Jamie Claussen (3.00 kpg). Sadie Maughan, a 6-foot-4 middle, has made an impact (2.52 kpg, 0.88 bpg).
Junior middle Robyn Hewitt is the older sister of incoming Wahine recruit Brittney.
7. Utah State (3-6)
The Aggies are coming off a third-place showing at the Golden Bear Invitational, where they were swept by host Cal and Minnesota before picking up a 3-0 win over Eastern Kentucky. Named to the all-tournament team were senior opposite Amanda Nielson (4.41 kpg, 18 aces) and freshman libero Christine Morrill (3.67 dpg). Morrill missed the first six matches of the season with an injury.
Concluding her career is senior hitter Monarisa Ale (Kahuku '04), who is third in blocks despite limited playing time.
The Aggies' other wins have come over Montana State and Eastern Washington. Tonight's WAC opener against Boise State will be USU's first home match after three weeks on the road.
8. Fresno State (2-8)
The Bulldogs, who won just six matches last year, still are struggling. The highlight of the preseason was last week's comeback win over Arkansas in five, after being down 0-2.
Sophomore hitter Lacey Gera, the reigning WAC Freshman of the Year, continues to shine (2.72 kpg). She was named to the all-tournament team at last week's Kansas State Invitational.
Senior Alisha McKee, the team's lone four-year player, leads Fresno State at 2.89 kpg. McKee and Gera had eight kills each in the 0-3 90-minute loss to Oregon State on Tuesday.
9. Louisiana Tech (5-7)
The Lady Techsters split the preseason between their intramural gym -- the Thomas Assembly Center's new floor won't be ready until mid-October -- and two trips to Texas. Tech is coming of a 3-2 loss to host Texas-San Antonio, whose assistant coach is former Wahine assistant Howard Wallace.
Senior middle Shannon Phillips, last season's kill leader, is at it again, averaging 5.14 kpg with nearly half of the team's 563 kills.
Tech's block is anchored by sophomore middle Samantha Crowder (1.82 bpg). Sophomore libero Brittney Nakamura heads the defense (4.02 dpg) and is tied with senior hitter Kristen Fairbanks in aces (15).