Wahine face tough road trip
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It's the toughest road trip of the year on several fronts.
First, it's the first for the No. 13 Hawaii volleyball team, which went 8-3 during the past four weeks at the Stan Sheriff Center.
Second, the Rainbow Wahine face a legitimate cross-section of the Western Athletic Conference by traveling to one of the bottom teams, Louisiana Tech, tomorrow, one of the top teams, No. 25 New Mexico State, on Saturday, and one of the better middle-of-the-pack teams, San Jose State, on Monday.
"Physically, the travel in itself is tough," Hawaii coach Dave Shoji said before the team left last night. "We're concerned with every match, there is always a challenge with passing.
"We see progress being made in the practice gym, but we have to get it to transfer to the game. The (mental) block is that passing is not automatic with our players. Once they get caught up in the game, they quit thinking about their technique. It's not second nature and we have to make it second nature."
Hawaii will also see a cross section of environments on this road trip, beginning with the Louisiana Tech match at the Lambright Intramural Center, where the Lady Techsters average 400.
New Mexico State is looking to break the Pan American Center attendance record for volleyball Saturday with its "Pack the Pan Am" promotion; the mark is 7,115, set against Hawaii on Oct. 1, 2005.
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FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
Alabama native Jamie Houston expects a large crowd when UH visits Louisiana Tech on Saturday.
Packing was a simple matter for the Hawaii volleyball team, as easy as A-B-C, when heading out on its first road trip of the season.
When the 13th-ranked Rainbow Wahine arrive in Ruston, La., this afternoon, they hope that more than their luggage made the trip. Hawaii is looking to unpack its "A" game, its "B" as in blocking and its "C" as in confidence when taking on the first of its three consecutive Western Athletic Conference road opponents tomorrow in Louisiana Tech.
No. 13 Hawaii (8-3, 2-0) at Louisiana Tech (5-10, 0-2)
» Tomorrow, 2 p.m. HST
» Radio: Live, ESPN 1420-AM
» TV: None
Hawaii at No. 25 New Mexico State (10-2, 2-0)
» Saturday, 3 p.m. HST
» Radio: Live, ESPN 1420-AM
» TV: None
"We probably have the easiest match of the year right before the hardest match of the year," sophomore middle Amber Kaufman said of playing LaTech tomorrow and then No. 25 New Mexico State Saturday. "I'm excited."
Despite winning their last five, the Wahine (8-3, 2-0) cannot afford to overlook the Lady Techsters (5-10, 0-2), who have not won a WAC contest since 2005. Hawaii's inconsistency in passing is of huge concern to coach Dave Shoji. The Wahine have struggled with serve-receive and have been sloppy on routine passes, which has led to an inability to run a quick, smooth offense.
"We have to be concerned every match," he said. "You don't have to be a good team to serve well and if you serve well, you can create some points.
"Friday (against Idaho) we passed well. Saturday (against Boise State) we never got into a rhythm, it was very herky-jerky. We can't do that against good teams and expect to win."
Not that Hawaii expects to lose to Louisiana Tech, a team it has swept in all nine of the meetings. The Lady Techsters have lost their last six, including a five-setter last night at Northwestern State.
With the Thomas Assembly Center under construction, the match will be at the Lambright Intramural Center. A large part of the limited seating is expected to be taken up by the family and friends of Wahine junior Jamie Houston.
"Hopefully there will be enough bleachers," said Houston, raised some 500 miles from Ruston in Huntsville, Ala. "The important thing is for us to be mentally tough in the locker room, come out and be ready to focus.
"Passing is a mental thing and we're just not focusing. We have to be smart."
The plan also is to be patient. Hawaii, considered to be a work-in-progress by its players, is fairly young at some key positions.
"We're working to get better," freshman libero Liz Ka'aihue said. "It's not just about beating the other teams. It's about beating them and getting better while doing it.
"I know it will come, through patience and working hard."
Ka'aihue said she was looking forward to the challenge that playing in front of hostile crowds brings.
"I'm looking forward to the heckling," she said. "You have to learn to block them out."
"You reframe their comments and try to turn it into an advantage, turn it into something positive," said first-year Wahine Aneli Cubi-Otineru. "You want to show those fans, 'OK, you're going to be obnoxious so I'll prove you wrong.'"
One positive of the road trip is the extra time it allows for film work in addition to court time.
"We've been watching video and I have lots to improve on," freshman middle Amanda Simmons said. "I'm excited to be making my first college road trip. It will be fun to learn what the team is like on the road, how we prepare.
"It will be nice to see other arenas, too. We know San Jose State (Monday's opponent) is getting really good. And then there's New Mexico State."
No. 25 New Mexico State ... which accomplished what only host BYU in 1998 had be able to do in 142 regular-season matches. Beat Hawaii.
The Aggies did it last Oct. 13, rallying to down the Wahine in five in a match played at a packed Las Cruces High.
For the second straight week, Hawaii will face the defending WAC player of the week. Last Friday, it was Idaho's Haley Larsen; Saturday, it will be NMSU sophomore Krista Altermatt, who had 43 kills and 30 digs in three victories last week.