Rainbow Wahine show grit that likely will pay off down the line
They rocked The Stanley hard for a solid 10 minutes with back-and-forth volleyball as intense as any played here -- and that's saying something. But at the end of the second set last night, Hawaii had cracked against its mirror image. Washington led 2-0 and still needed to close it out, but it was over.
Someone forgot to tell that to the Rainbow Wahine.
Only they and the most loyal of their fans could imagine them still being around more than an hour later, putting the finishing touches on a remarkable comeback even by this remarkable program's standards.
This was No. 9 Washington and No. 10 Hawaii, in a match that looked even on paper and during many sequences on the court. But at most of the crucial junctures early, the Huskies controlled the action, with UH looking tentative and making mistakes.
Most teams would have fallen apart in disappointment after the hard-fought action at the end of the second set that went for naught. But UH used it as a starting point. After extending the Huskies to 29-27, the Wahine knew they could play with the talented visitors, and they knew they wouldn't give up.
By the end of the fourth set, it was Washington making the errors, and the Wahine taking full advantage.
There was Jamie Houston, focused, inspired and getting stronger as the match wore on.
Birthday girl Stephanie Ferrell was a difference-maker in the fourth set, with fresh legs and a golden arm.
Amber Kaufman, a revelation in the middle, used her near-world-class leaping ability to launch unstoppable shots into the heart of the Washington defense -- that's when she wasn't firing service aces -- a school-record 11 of them, igniting her teammates and the best crowd of the season.
Setter Dani Mafua was calm and consistent.
It was an early midterm for freshman Kanani Herring. As coach Dave Shoji predicted, she would need time to solve a block as good as Washington's -- and did she ever, with 21 kills, including the match-winner. Flying colors, Phenom.
A young Washington team performed beyond its years, aggressively and competently. Outside hitter Kindra Carlson took control of the match several times early and local girl Tamari Miyashiro showed why she was national Defensive Player of the Year in 2007.
But this was a new world for the Huskies, going beyond a third set. Washington was 7-0 going in, all 3-0 sweeps. And none of the wins was against ranked teams. This would be its baptism against competition at its talent level, and this loss will help them.
The Wahine needed this, too, after five wins in a row against lesser lights after losing to powerhouses Penn State and UCLA on the opening weekend.
Next, the anti-climactic Western Athletic Conference schedule -- although you know the Wahine have the New Mexico State matches circled. Even against the Aggies, they probably won't need the magic and grit of last night.
But some night in December, far from here and deep in the NCAA tournament, these Wahine may be down 2-0.
And they'll know they can still win.