Wahine ready for NCAA journey
No. 9 Wahine want this road trip to last
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For the Hawaii volleyball team, the most wonderful time of the year is the NCAA tournament.
Tenn. State (20-13) vs. Hawaii (26-5)
» When: Friday, 11 a.m. Hawaii time
» Where: Louisville, Ky.
» Radio: KKEA, 1420-AM
The Rainbow Wahine (26-5) leave this evening for Louisville, Ky., with their highest ranking of the year -- ninth in yesterday's CSTV/AVCA Coaches Top 25 -- and high hopes for the playoffs.
"I know I'm excited, my first NCAAs," Hawaii freshman libero Elizabeth Ka'aihue said. "We just have to make sure we're on top of our game on our side of the net. That's been our battle. But if we're playing good as a team, then we have a lot of capability.
"We have to bring our 'A' game to all the matches and hopefully it will take us all the way to Sacramento (Calif.)."
To get to the ARCO Arena for the final four in Sacramento, 11th-seeded Hawaii will have to win its next four matches.
The journey begins Friday when the Wahine take on Ohio Valley champion Tennessee State (20-13) at the Kentucky International Convention Center (11 a.m. Hawaii time).
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The week has started off auspiciously enough: highest ranking of the season (No. 9) and the conference's final player of the week (Juliana Sanders) selection.
The goal is to end this week with equal success: two victories at the NCAA volleyball tournament sub-regional in Louisville, Ky., and tickets to next week's regional at Penn State.
It's "Have Volleyball, Will Travel" time once again for Hawaii (26-5), seeded 11th in its 26th NCAA appearance. The Rainbow Wahine have a very short week to prepare for Friday's first-round match against Tennessee State (22-10), the Ohio Valley champion making its NCAA tournament debut.
Hawaii practiced yesterday and had a short one scheduled today before leaving this evening for the mainland. It's anyone's guess at this point as to when the Wahine will be returning home.
After this weekend? After next week's regional? After the final four in Sacramento on Dec. 13 and 15?
Packing smart for a potential three weeks on the road is the least of their worries.
"It's not going to be easy getting to Pennsylvania," sophomore defensive specialist Jayme Lee said of the Dec. 7-8 regional at Penn State. "We still need to get through those first two games this week.
"But we're excited, ready to go and give it our best shot. Hopefully, we'll come up with that national championship ring at the end."
Hawaii last did that when it won its fourth national title (third NCAA championship) in 1987. The Wahine have been to five final fours since, the last in 2003, but haven't played in the title match since being swept by Stanford in 1996.
One streak that Hawaii would like to keep going is its run in the first and second rounds. The Wahine are 18-0 on the first weekend of NCAA play, dating back to a first-round loss to Loyola Marymount in 1997.
"I think this is a good test for us," Wahine sophomore hitter Aneli Cubi-Otineru said. "It's not that big of a thing that we're going to be on the road again. We've overcome a lot this season, like playing in front of those crowds at New Mexico State.
"It's another challenge we need to meet."
Barring any upsets, Hawaii will face No. 24 Louisville in Saturday's second round (2 p.m. Hawaii time). The Wahine defeated the Cardinals (22-7) in four here during the Hawaiian Airlines Classic over Labor Day weekend.
"I'm sure they've gotten better since then, but I think we've become a lot better," Cubi-Otineru said. "If we end up playing them at their home it's even more incentive for us to play hard."
With one exception, Hawaii's 14-player travel roster is the same as it was for the Western Athletic Conference tournament. Freshman hitter Stephanie Ferrell is replacing senior middle Caroline Blood on the trip.
Coach Dave Shoji said he wanted Ferrell to experience the NCAA tournament, although she likely will not play. She has been sidelined with an ankle injury since early October.
The senior middle made the most of her final home matches and was rewarded with the WAC's last weekly honor of the season. Sanders had a combined 25 kills and hit .613 in two wins over Loyola Marymount.