SB FILE / 2006
Nebraska won the national championship last year and is unbeaten so far this season.
Underdog role is rare for Wahine
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It's not often the University of Hawaii volleyball team enters a match as a decided underdog, but such is the case for the Rainbow Wahine at tomorrow's nonconference game in Nebraska.
The No. 1-ranked Cornhuskers will have a sellout crowd cheering them on as UH head coach Dave Shoji matches wits with the talented Nebraska team.
Since being swept by UCLA early in the season, No. 11-ranked Hawaii has won 13 consecutive matches.
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They have nothing to lose. And so much to gain.
Many give No. 11 Hawaii two chances to beat No. 1 Nebraska tomorrow: slim and none. And slim just left town. That's fine with the Rainbow Wahine, who left last night for Lincoln, Neb., and a much-anticipated meeting with the undefeated Huskers.
No. 11 Hawaii (16-3) at No. 1 Nebraska (17-0)
When: Tomorrow, noon
TV: Pay-per-view OC Digital 255
Radio: KKEA 1420-AM
"It's just a great opportunity for us," UH sophomore hitter Aneli Cubi-Otineru said. "All we can do is play our best, do what we know we can do, and focus. New Mexico State had a rowdy crowd, so we know what it's like. That gives us even more of a push to prove the crowd wrong."
The attendance at the Pan American Center was 4,361 for Hawaii's match against New Mexico State Sept. 22. That's about 300 more than the Huskers will draw tonight for their 100th consecutive sellout at the NU Coliseum against Kansas.
It's also about 9,000 fewer than will show up at the Devaney Center tomorrow, most chanting "Husker Power" and "Go Big Red."
"As we saw when we played at the NACWAA, there will be a sea of red," UH senior middle Kari Gregory said of the 2005 season-opening match against Nebraska in Omaha. "I think our team will be more prepared this time.
"It's going to be exciting. A lot of our girls have never had the opportunity to play in front of a large opposing crowd. Nebraska is a legend, but we've been playing well on the road. This will be a good test for us, the first real one since UCLA."
Hawaii lost to the Bruins in a quick 96 minutes back on Sept. 3 -- and hasn't lost since. The Wahine put a 13-match winning streak on the line tomorrow against a Nebraska team that has swept 16 of its 17 opponents, with only UCLA taking a game off the Huskers on Aug. 25.
Nebraska packs the house
Sunday's sold-out match between Hawaii and Nebraska at the Devaney Center will set an NCAA record for largest regular-season attendance of 13,590. The largest regular-season crowds in NCAA history:
» 1. Nebraska vs. Penn State, 13,081, Sept. 2, 2007, Qwest Center, Omaha
» 2. Colorado at Nebraska, 12,504, Nov. 4, 2000, Devaney Center, Lincoln
» 3. Nebraska at Creighton, 12,112, Sept. 24, 2006, Qwest Center, Omaha
» 4. Colorado at Nebraska, 11,529, Oct. 22, 1995 Devaney Center, Lincoln
» 5. Nebraska vs. UCLA, 11,076, Aug. 24, 2007 Qwest Center, Omaha
The defending national champions were tested early Wednesday at Missouri, fighting off game point at 29-28 in Game 1 and scoring three straight to win 31-29. Nebraska finished off the Tigers 31-29, 30-18, 30-14 for a 15th straight sweep.
Senior middle blocker Tracy Stalls, second nationally in hitting percentage, had 15 kills and one error on 19 attempts and was in on six of the team's 10 blocks. Senior right-side hitter Sarah Pavan, last season's National Player of the Year, had a match-high 18 kills, and senior hitter Christina Houghtelling, the 2005 National Player of the Year, added 11 kills and had three aces, all in a 10-0 run in Game 2.
Sophomore setter Rachel Holloway had the Huskers hitting .458, with 55 assists, her career best for a three-game match.
"They don't have a weakness," Wahine coach Dave Shoji said of the Huskers. "They have a great opposite (Pavan), great players on the left (Houghtelling and junior Jordan Larson) and a great setter (Holloway).
"Our game plan is we have to serve aggressively if we want to have a chance, make them set the ball high outside. If they're able to get the ball consistently to their middles, we'll have problems. But we have been playing well, improved a lot. Our players are excited about this match. I know I am. It's a chance to play a very good team.
"At the moment, it's pretty much Nebraska and everyone else. They're the team to beat. You'll have to beat Nebraska to win the national title."
Hawaii knows well what it feels to be a target. The Wahine are 166-2 in Western Athletic Conference regular-season matches
"Everyone wants to beat the No. 1 team," Cubi-Otineru said. "It's added pressure on them.
"For us, our chemistry is getting there. We've been working a lot on defense, our hitting is smarter. I think everything is falling into place. We have nothing to lose on this trip."
"If we can fire on all cylinders, we can accomplish it," added junior hitter Jessica Keefe. "We'll need to exploit all of our strengths and meet all the challenges."
Notes: Nebraska has been ranked No. 1 in the last 25 polls, breaking the AVCA poll record of 24 set by USC from 2002 to 2004. The Huskers came into the week leading the nation in hitting percentage (.339), assists (17.02) and kills (18.37) per game and are looking to become just the second team to lead all three categories since Hawaii in 2002. ... Nebraska brings a nation-leading 27-match win streak into tonight's match with Kansas. During that span, the Huskers have dropped just six games and been pushed to five only once, that in last year's regional final against Minnesota.