SB FILE / 2007
Junior Aneli Cubi-Otineru is back as an outside hitter for the Rainbow Wahine, who open tomorrow against Penn State.
Penn State huge early test for Wahine
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Opening the season tomorrow against defending NCAA champion Penn State is quite an eye-opener. But early wake-up calls have been the norm for the Hawaii women's volleyball team the past few months.
HAWAII AIRLINES CLASSIC
Stan Sheriff Center
Tomorrow: No. 6 UCLA vs. Ohio, 5 p.m.;
No. 1 Penn State at No. 12 Hawaii, 7 p.m.
TV: All matches, KFVE (Ch. 5)
Radio: UH matches only, KKEA 1420-AM
The Rainbow Wahine switched to early-morning workouts last spring, a routine that continued through the summer with morning weightlifting. The team's practices started at 6:30 a.m. Monday, the first day of school, and continued through yesterday. Today's practice returned to the usual 3 p.m. start.
"It's kind of like what our football team does," Hawaii coach Dave Shoji said. "Obviously, it's a little different for us. But I think it's been good so far. Sometimes, after a day of classes, you're kind of dragging by mid-afternoon.
"We'll evaluate it after this week."
This week's Hawaiian Airlines Classic will also be a good evaluation of where the Wahine are. Besides No. 1 Penn State, Hawaii hosts Mid-American Conference power Ohio on Saturday and perennial visitor UCLA, ranked sixth.
"I don't know if we'll be ready for Penn State," said Shoji, beginning his 34th season. "It's a major undertaking to play a team that good this early.
"It's going to be a very challenging weekend for us."
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It's a nice position to be in. Dave Shoji estimates that for every opening on his nonconference schedule, three teams are asking to be considered.
"It gives us an opportunity to pick and choose," the Hawaii women's volleyball coach said.
Defending national champion Penn State wasn't the first choice for tomorrow's season opener, but when Texas backed out, the Nittany Lions agreed to make their first trip out since the 2005 Hawaiian Airlines Classic.
The 21st HAL Classic field again is loaded, from top-ranked Penn State to No. 6 UCLA, from No. 12 Hawaii to Ohio, which received 62 votes in the preseason CBS College Sports/AVCA Coaches Preseason Top 25.
Shoji, entering his 34th season, knows the three-day event will be a challenge. The Rainbow Wahine are a work in progress, their coach said.
"At times we look really good, sometimes we look like we don't know what we're doing," he said. "You never know what you're going to get. Hopefully, we can become a good team by December.
"I don't think you could say that there are any real surprises, but I am very happy about our freshmen. They are further along than I could have imagined."
One of those freshmen, outside hitter Kanani Herring (Kamehameha), is expected to start against Penn State. The tentative starting lineup announced Monday also included sophomore setter Dani Mafua; junior libero Jayme Lee; junior Amber Kaufman and sophomore Amanda Simmons at middle; and senior Jamie Houston and junior Aneli Cubi-Otineru as outside hitters.
The tournament promises to be a challenge for Hawaii, on both sides of the net. Shoji is as concerned about his opponents as he is about his team.
"It's a very challenging weekend for us," Shoji said. "It's a major undertaking to play Penn State, a team that good that early.
"Ohio is always good and you've always got to be concerned when you play UCLA. Win or lose, we can't get caught up in what happened the night before because we have to make a quick turnaround and play a very good team the very next night."
While Hawaii's success does allow it to be picky about preseason opponents, it does seem that UCLA has a standing invitation. The Bruins have played in the islands every year but one since 1976.
"It's a year to year thing with Andy (UCLA coach Banachowski)," Shoji said. "If he starts beating us too badly, or doesn't give me enough strokes in our golf game, the invitation may end."
A look at the teams according to ranking:
No. 1 Penn State
The Nittany Lions return all seven starters from last year's 34-2 NCAA national championship team, including four All-Americans,
Back for reigning Coach of the Year Russ Rose are senior middle Christa Harmotto (3.10 kps, .492 hitting percentage), senior outside Nicole Fawcett (4.44 kps), junior hitter Megan Hodge (4.60 kps) and junior setter Alisha Glass (13.02 aps). Penn State also returns Big Ten Freshman of the Year Arielle Wilson, a 6-foot-3 middle (2.39 kps) and sophomore Blair Brown (1.91 kps).
Penn State is 3-0 against Hawaii, one of just three schools to have never lost to the Wahine. (Michigan State 1-0 and Missouri 1-0 are the others).
No. 6 UCLA
The Bruins have won their past nine season openers for Andy Banachowski, the only NCAA women's volleyball coach with more than 1,000 victories (1,060-281).
Sunday's meeting with Hawaii will be the 66th between the two teams, with the Wahine holding a 34-31 edge. UCLA has won the last three contests, all in straight sets.
Leading the Bruins is senior setter Nellie Spicer, the school's all-time assist leader. Also back is senior hitter Ali Daley (3.69 kps), sophomore hitter Dicey McGraw (2.57 kps) and senior libero Jade Machado (3.19 dps).
One interesting matchup will come Saturday when the Bruins meet the Nittany Lions. On the UCLA roster is junior hitter Laura Holloway, who transferred after playing two seasons for Penn State.
The Bruins went 23-11 last season, finishing fifth in the Pac-10 and losing in the regional final to eventual NCAA runner-up Stanford.
No. 12 Hawaii
The Rainbow Wahine are looking to atone for a 27-6 season that concluded with a surprising loss to Middle Tennessee State, the first time UH lost in the second round of the NCAA tournament. Hawaii also looks to start a new Western Athletic Conference home winning streak; the Wahine lost at home to a WAC team for the first time ever in 12 seasons when they were swept by Utah State on Nov. 11.
Back for her senior season is All-America hitter Jamie Houston (5.51 kps), the Preseason Western Athletic Conference Player of the Year. Also returning is junior hitter Aneli Cubi-Otineru (3.69 kps) and All-WAC selections Tara Hittle, a senior outside; junior setter Stephanie Brandt; and sophomore libero Elizabeth Ka'aihue, who has been slowed by a minor knee problem.
Hawaii coach Dave Shoji (953-169-1) is second in career wins only to UCLA's Banachowski.
The Bobcats return four starters from the 26-6 team that won the Mid-American Conference regular-season title for the fifth straight year. Ohio lost in the NCAA first round to Purdue.
Ryan Theis is in his first year with the Bobcats. Back are junior hitter Ellen Herman (4.07 kps) and sophomore setter Michelle Jantsch (9.54 aps).
Ohio arrived Sunday night and has been hanging out on the North Shore. Sheriff Center fans will be treated to a team tradition, a prematch ritual known as a pony dance.
Ohio has never played any of the teams in the HAL Classic field.