WOMEN'S COLLEGIATE VOLLEYBALL
Wahine face new tests, old friends
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Knowing Dave Shoji has its advantages.
It might include a round of golf at one of Oahu's country clubs with the Hawaii women's volleyball coach. And it could mean an invitation to compete in a preseason tournament at the Stan Sheriff Center.
No. 12 Minnesota (3-0) at No. 11 Hawaii (1-2), 7 p.m. tomorrow; Wyoming at Hawaii, 7 p.m. Friday; Cincinnati at Hawaii, 5 p.m. Sunday; Tomorrow and Friday's matches on KFVE, Ch. 5, Sunday's match PPV. Radio: KKEA, 1420-AM
That's the case in this week's Volleyball Challenge for two in Shoji's circle of coaching friends. Bringing his 12th-ranked Minnesota team in is Mike Hebert, who helped influence Shoji's decision to play volleyball while the two were at UC Santa Barbara in the 1960s.
Returning for a second time in four seasons with his Cincinnati team is Hilo High graduate Reed Sunahara. Also in the field is former Western Athletic Conference member Wyoming, making its first trip to Honolulu since 1996.
"It is easier to schedule a friend," Shoji said. "I've got about a dozen coaches that I talk to throughout the year or see out on the road recruiting.
"It should be another quality tournament. We're not taking anyone lightly."
No. 11 Hawaii opens with Minnesota at 7 p.m. tomorrow. The first match pits Cincinnati and Wyoming at 5 p.m.
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To set the record straight, yes, Hawaii was
out of rotation during Set 4 of Sunday's volleyball match against UCLA. The point gave the Bruins a 19-14 lead and, though the Rainbow Wahine came back to serve set point four times, UCLA went on to win 30-28 to close out the match.
"All I can say is we lined up wrong before the serve," Hawaii coach Dave Shoji said.
It's one of those mental errors the Wahine will need to avoid in order to have success this week. The Volleyball Challenge doesn't have the big names of last week's tournament, but the field is talented, headed by No. 12 Minnesota.
"I think Minnesota will be one of the top teams in the country this season," Shoji said. "Cincinnati's going to be pretty good. I don't know what to expect from Wyoming, they're in transition with a new coach.
"But these days, everybody's good. There is no one you can take lightly."
Count the Wahine among those teams. Hawaii played well in its opening loss to defending national champion Penn State, found a rhythm in sweeping Ohio and nearly pulled off an upset of No. 6 UCLA.
The biggest disappointment of falling to the Bruins 23-25, 25-23, 26-24, 30-28 was "we had a few breakdowns, more noticeable at the end of each game," Shoji said. "Maybe it was fatigue, maybe the legs were tired, but our ball control didn't allow us to stay in system, didn't allow us to win some of those long rallies.
"It would have been a big win," he added, "but it showed us we can stay with and come back on a team like UCLA."
No. 11 Hawaii (1-2)
Although the Wahine dropped the bookend matches of the HAL Classic, they appear to have found a lineup ... for now.
Senior middle Nickie Thomas, who had career nights against Ohio and UCLA, is penciled in to start her third match. At the other middle is junior Amber Kaufman, who struggled a bit against UCLA but played well in the latter part of the match.
While senior hitter Jamie Houston will again get the majority of sets, Hawaii has an emerging star on the outside in freshman Kanani Herring. Junior Aneli Cubi-Otineru also is expected to start on the outside, but the rotation likely will include redshirt freshman Stephanie Ferrell, a spark off the bench last week.
Sophomore setter Dani Mafua continues to improve with experience. Senior Tara Hittle is settling in at libero after some on-the-job training, although "she has a hitter's mentality and she'll probably be taking some swings (as an outside hitter) at some point," Shoji said.
No. 12 Minnesota (3-0)
The Golden Gophers won the Bluejay Invitational last week with victories over host Creighton, Texas A&M and then-No. 21 LSU.
Sophomore hitter Brook Dieter was named the tournament's MVP, turning in a double-double (12 kills, 10 digs) in the sweep of the Tigers. Senior setter Rachel Hartmann, one of six returning starters, was named to the all-tournament team, averaging 11.80 assists per set.
Junior libero Christine Tan was named the Big Ten Defensive Player of the week Monday, with an average of 6.10 digs per set and a perfect 42 on serve-receives. She had a career-high 32 digs in the 3-1 win over the Aggies, 61 for the tournament.
Coaching the Gophers is AVCA Hall of Famer Mike Hebert, the first coach to win 300 matches at two different schools and one of three coaches to take two schools to the final four. The former Illinois coach is a former fraternity rival of Shoji at UC Santa Barbara.
The Cowgirls, on the road for a second consecutive week, went winless at the Corvallis Invitational with losses to host Oregon State, Portland State and College of Charleston.
Leading Wyoming is senior setter Tasha Weishanhn (9.58 aps) and sophomore hitter Dani Bedore (3.17 kps).
Former Washington State middle blocker Carrie Courturier Yerty is in her first year as coach after 12 seasons at Memphis. The Cowgirls are making their first trip to Honolulu since 1996, their last season in the Western Athletic Conference and are 0-9 against Hawaii.
The Bearcats won the title of their own State Farm Invitational with wins over Wright State, Tennessee Tech and Marshall.
Sophomore Stephanie Niemer (4.40 kps, 20 digs) capped her MVP weekend with 17 kills against the Thundering Herd on Sunday. Also named to the all-tournament team were 6-foot-4 freshman middle Kelsey Brandl (2.40 kps, 8 blocks) and senior middle Jessie Nevitt (2.90 kps, 13 blocks).
One of the biggest recruiting coups for coach Reed Sunahara (Hilo '80) was keeping Missy Harpenau, PrepVolleyball.com's National Player of the Year, home. The 6-foot Harpenau debuted with 24 kills, four aces and four blocks in three starts.