JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
Jamie Houston has impressed coaches around the WAC with how much she has improved.
Wahine setting fast pace
Volleyball team finding success with uptempo game
STORY SUMMARY »
They hit at a tempo that no other team in the conference has been able to match -- rarely if ever, and certainly not so far this Western Athletic Conference season.
Fresno State (4-13, 2-5 WAC) at Hawaii (12-3, 6-0)
When: Today, 5 p.m.
Where: Stan Sheriff Center
TV: KFVE, Ch. 5
Radio: KKEA, 1420-AM
Series: Hawaii leads 40-0
"We try to play at a fast tempo as much as we can," Hawaii coach Dave Shoji said after Friday's quick win over Nevada. "Sometimes the match doesn't allow it, but it's what we do want to do."
The goals for today's matinee match against Fresno State are simple: be efficient and be effective. A win would extend Hawaii's winning streak to 10.
The game plan for the 12th-ranked Rainbow Wahine is also to be in control so as to allow Shoji to use the bench and to toss a few things that have worked in the practice gym into a match.
"We'll have to see how the match goes," Shoji said. "We might try some things, use other players.
"If we can, great, but it's not something you go into the match thinking about."
Fresno State (4-13, 2-5) is not thinking about its 0-40 history against Hawaii (12-3, 6-0).
"We have to be mentally tough and composed," Bulldogs coach Ruben Nieves said. "For us to win, we have to do all our skills well -- attack, block, defend, set and pass great.
"We need to stay focused on the things we can control, and enjoy playing against Hawaii in the Stan Sheriff Center in front of great Hawaii fans.
"It's one of the highlights any collegiate volleyball player or coach can ever experience in this country."
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They're not looking for an easy volleyball match. They want to be tested and pushed, and to keep getting better.
The challenge for No. 12 Hawaii this evening is to treat Fresno State as if it was Nebraska -- the opponent two weeks from now -- when seeing the Bulldogs on the other side of the Stan Sheriff Center court.
The challenge is to not let up while not letting down. It might be tough to do -- the Bulldogs come in on a four-match losing streak, punctuated by Thursday's disappointing 3-2 loss to Boise State.
Historically, Fresno State (4-15, 2-5 Western Athletic Conference) has had little success when facing Hawaii (12-3, 6-0), from losing all 40 meetings to holding the record for fewest points scored (two) in a 35-minute loss back in 1983. But Bulldogs coach Ruben Nieves is not playing against the history book. It's 0-0 when the first whistle blows at 5 p.m.
"Every WAC team that steps onto the court against Hawaii has the opportunity to achieve something special," he said. "We know it's a tough task. Hawaii is talented, deep and athletic.
"The best teams have terminators, go-to players. We don't have those."
But Hawaii does, said Nieves, including junior hitter Jamie Houston. She had a match-high 16 kills in Friday's sweep of Nevada, with three errors -- two early in Game 1 and one late in Game 3.
"Houston is really coming into her own," Nieves said. "She's a lot better than even last year.
"We watched the first two games (Friday on television) and Hawaii is as talented as ever. You see that the player of the year is gone (graduated setter Kanoe Kamana'o) and think that the setting won't be as strong, but it is. I thought their setter (sophomore transfer Stephanie Brandt) is very good."
His Bulldogs have had their moments, just not enough. They've been able to win two five-set matches, rallying after being down 0-2. But Thursday when hosting the Broncos, Fresno State was six points away from closing out the match, with a 24-19 lead in Game 4, and couldn't hold on. The Bulldogs lost Game 4 30-25 when the Broncos went on an 11-1 run, and then dropped Game 5 15-9 after tying it at 7-7.
"We were very disappointed with the outcome," Nieves said. "All of a sudden we couldn't put a ball down."
The Bulldogs did serve tough with 13 aces, including a career-high six by Lisa Gera to go with 33 digs. Senior hitter Alisha McKee continued to lead the team, putting down 15 kills, and sophomore middle Kelly Leonardo had 12 kills, hitting .310.
Yesterday, Fresno State mixed business with pleasure, combining a morning practice with a free afternoon.
Hawaii, on the other hand, did not practice yesterday, with a mandated day off. The Wahine had four practices before Friday's match.
Hawaii coach Dave Shoji said Fresno's record had nothing to do with taking the day off.
"We had to take a day off," he said. "We had four hard days of practice leading up to the weekend. And we'll have another tough week next week.
"We take all of our opponents seriously. We want to keep getting better, no matter who we play."
The Wahine, winners of nine straight, won't play at home again until hosting No. 22 New Mexico State on Oct. 26. Hawaii is at Boise State on Thursday, Idaho on Saturday and Utah State a week from tomorrow, returns home for three days then plays at No. 1 Nebraska on Oct. 21.
The road doesn't get easier for Fresno State either. After today, the Bulldogs play six of their next seven away from home.