UHH, BYUH at top of PWC volleyball class
The collective sigh of relief could be heard from Hilo to Laie, and across the Pacific to Phoenix.
The announcement last month that the Pacific West Conference would have an automatic qualifier in NCAA Division II tournaments dispelled a black cloud that had hung over the conference for a while. The most recent disappointments were the snub of the Hawaii-Hilo women's volleyball and Hawaii Pacific softball teams for regional at-large berths.
"It was very frustrating," UHH volleyball coach Bruce Atkinson said of not making the NCAA tournament despite a 23-5 record, 14-0 in the PWC. "Getting the automatic berth is a big plus. Our focus now should be getting three or four teams in.
"It's going to be incredibly difficult to run the table in conference play. Even last year, I know of at least two matches we should have lost that we were fortunate to have pulled out. The Hawaii schools will be incredibly tough this year. Hopefully we don't beat up on each other too much."
A look at the teams, in order of the preseason coaches poll:
The Vulcans, who received six of seven first-place votes in the poll, return PWC Player of the year Fabiane Seben, a junior middle; junior outside hitter Josimara Pinheiro; and junior Laura Rodriguez, the reigning PWC Libero of the Year. Also back is junior middle Morgan Bonney, who Atkinson said impressed him in Saturday's 25-7, 25-16, 25-20 win over the alumnae.
Hilo also gained Kawena Cubi-Otineru, younger sister of Rainbow Wahine junior hitter Aneli, who transferred from the College of Southern Idaho. Cubi-Otineru (St. Francis '06) is a 5-foot-10 outside hitter.
The Vulcans also picked up two junior transfers in setters Emily Tooker (Mississippi State) and Kumiko Chow (Bethune Cookman).
Hilo hosts its annual Hawaiian Style Classic beginning tonight at the UHH gym. The Vulcans face Metro State in their opener.
2. Brigham Young-Hawaii
The word is "diversified" for the Seasiders (13-9, 9-4), who feature players from "Fiji, South Dakota, Minnesota and Hauula," BYUH coach Wilfred Navalta said.
"We're not very tall, but we have a good fighting spirit. We have more local kids and that means we'll have better ball control. I enjoy being the underdogs because you're expected to lose, but when you win, that's the fun part of it."
The Seasiders are young (five freshmen, three sophomores) but will be under the leadership of senior setter LeeAnn Mapu.
BYUH hosts Nebraska-Kearney tonight at Cannon Activities Center as part of the Hawaii Invitational that is being played over three days at three Oahu locations.
The Silverswords (25-7, 8-6) look to improve on their third-place PWC finish behind senior hitter Trina Kauliakamoa, the league's preseason Player of the Year.
Chaminade is the only Hawaii school not to have won a national women's volleyball title.
"I absolutely know how tough it is to win," said Silverswords coach Glennie Adams, an All-American on the Vulcans' 1981 championship team. "I think we're right there.
"We've got talented individuals, but the team has stated that they want to form chemistry. I think we're more balanced this year, at a more consistent emotional level."
Also returning for Chaminade is sophomore setter Tanya Alvino, another preseason all-conference pick.
The Silverswords open today at McCabe Gym with a Hawaii Invitational doubleheader against Embry-Riddle at 2 p.m. and Cal Poly Pomona at 7 p.m.
4. Hawaii Pacific
The Sea Warriors (10-16, 4-10) should get immediate help from 14 new players.
"We're new and hopefully improved," coach Daryl Kapis said. "We're a lot older and will be led by juniors and seniors.
"The exciting thing for me is the competition in the gym. I brought in eight outside hitters and there's a lot more competition for playing time."
Among the newcomers is Tricia Yoshimura (Hawaii Baptist), a 5-2 sophomore defensive specialist who transferred from Oregon State.
HPU will play all its home matches at the Blaisdell Arena, starting with tonight's match against Embry-Riddle.
5. Notre Dame de Namur
The Lady Argos (11-19, 7-7) are rebuilding after losing four senior starters.
"Our strength will be defense and blocking," coach Devin Grant said.
Heading the defense is junior libero Shauna Folan. Again spending time in the backcourt is junior defensive specialist Sonya Legaspi (Radford).
6. Dixie State
First-year coach Jason Stout inherits a team that went 7-23 overall, 4-10 PWC. On the roster are nine new players that he had only seen on film prior to starting practice earlier this month.
"I don't know what to expect," he said.
7. Grand Canyon
The Antelopes (7-20, 3-11) look to rebound after a disappointing season.
"We've got eight returnees," coach Kris Naber said. "We've got more experienced players and I'm excited to be competitive every night instead of one or two nights."
Grand Canyon had the only player not from a Hawaii school named to the preseason team in junior hitter Dana Edington, who ranked second in the conference in kills (3.95 kps).