UH WAHINE VOLLEYBALL
All jobs up for grabs as Wahine start up
Good but how good?
Better but how much?
Final four contenders or pretenders?
Lots of question marks will wake up along with the Hawaii women's volleyball team tomorrow morning when the Wahine open the first of two-a-day practices. There is talent and depth at every position, along with stiff competition for the starting jobs.
There are also a few changes besides a move tomorrow and Sunday to Gym I due to an event at the Stan Sheriff Center.
New faces on the coaching roster include former team manager Ryan Tsuji, who has a five-month turn at assistant while associate head coach Kari Anderson is on maternity leave. Also added as a volunteer assistant is longtime Punahou coach Peter Balding, who has led both the Buffanblu boys and girls to state titles.
There are five new players on the roster, led by freshman hitter Kanani Herring, the three-time Star-Bulletin Player of the Year out of Kamehameha. She is joined by Brittany Hewitt, the Idaho state player of the year; Arkansas transfer Cat Fowler; and freshman walk-ons Emily Maeda (Roosevelt) and Californian Sarah Prather (Bishop Montgomery).
"The expectations are obvious, the first one being to win the WAC and qualify for the NCAAs," said UH coach Dave Shoji, beginning his 34th season. "There's battles at every position.
"I made a statement that Dani (sophomore setter Mafua) was ahead of Stephanie (junior setter Brandt) after spring, but that goes out the window now. Everyone is even right now at every position. We'll go day-by-day to see who becomes a starter."
The Wahine return six starters from a 27-6 team that won the WAC for a 12th straight time but also lost in the NCAA tournament's second round for the first time. Leading the returnees is senior hitter Jamie Houston, who ranked second in the nation last season in kill average (5.51 per set).
Also back are All-WAC selections Aneli Cubi-Otineru, a junior outside hitter, senior hitter Tara Hittle and Brandt. Sophomore libero Elizabeth Ka'aihue (3.96 dpg) returns as a defensive anchor.
Shoji is very high on the athletic Herring, calling her a complete player who will compete immediately for a starting outside spot. Fowler brings experience to the middle position that has junior Amber Kaufman back off a U.S. Olympic Trials high jump appearance.
"I think Amber could have a breakout season," Shoji said. "She's had tremendous workouts over the summer.
"Cat (Fowler) brings a lot of experience to the position, Amanda (sophomore Simmons) gained a lot of valuable experience over one year and Nickie (senior Thomas) has been on the verge of playing a lot."
Thomas has had an injury-plagued career that includes season-ending tears of the ACL in each knee. She was starting in 2006 until going down in the seventh match of the season, and then went down during preseason practice 12 months ago.
Outside hitter Jessica Keefe, who has had her share of injuries, rounds out the senior class.
"Every year, you have a different vantage point," Keefe said. "It's different seeing things from the top. I've already begun to think of things as 'the last time' and Saturday is the start of my last season, the last time I'll have to do double-days.
"There's a good energy on this team. I'm ready and excited to get started."