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Hawaii bowls over Belmont in first round


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POSTED: Saturday, December 06, 2008

Size matters in the NCAA volleyball tournament.

Not just physical size, but in the stature of tradition.

Although Hawaii has not won a national title since 1987, the Rainbow Wahine still are considered one of the heavyweights in the sport.

When needed, No. 6 Hawaii shifted into another gear yesterday, taking only 79 minutes to eliminate Belmont, 25-19, 25-11, 25-16. The Wahine (29-3) take on another traditional power when facing No. 12 USC in today’s second-round match (4 p.m. Hawaii time) at the Galen Center.

The host Women of Troy turned back No. 15 San Diego, 21-25, 25-12, 25-19, 26-24 to advance. It sets up a rematch of the Hawaii-USC battle in the 2006 regional semifinal, which the Wahine won in a five-set upset in Honolulu.

USC coach Mick Haley expects another tough match with Hawaii.

“I’m sure it will be a battle — it always is when Hawaii and USC play,” said Haley, whose Texas team upset the Wahine for the 1988 NCAA title. “I think it will be a very good match. If I were a fan, I’d want to get a ticket.”

Only 1,329 saw USC snap a three-match skid and, with the conflict with the USC-UCLA football game today, there may be more Hawaii fans in the Galen Center than those of the home team.

“It will be an interesting match,” San Diego coach Jennifer Petrie said. “They have different strengths. Hawaii does a nice job of ball control and USC is just big.”

The Women of Troy outblocked the Toreros 16-8, the last coming when 6-foot-3 Zoe Garrett and 6-2 Kimmee Rolder stuffed Ashton Basch to give USC its fourth swing at match point. Basch tried to hit over the block but went long to end it after an hour and 51 minutes.

Jessica Gysin, a 6-1 outside hitter, and Garrett led USC with 13 kills. Ali Troost had 13 for San Diego.

“SC is probably as talented as any Pac-10 team out there,” Wahine coach Dave Shoji said. “They’re big at every position. We’ll have to play our best match of the year to beat them.”

The Wahine will have to play better than yesterday, when they started slowly against Belmont.

But Hawaii outscrapped the scrappy Bruins and bested Belmont — fourth nationally in aces — from the service line. The Wahine had 10 aces, five by Amber Kaufman, while the Bruins didn’t have one until late in Set 3 when Hawaii’s Stephanie Ferrell couldn’t get out of the way of Kayla Albrittons’ serve.

“We’re used to playing scrappy teams, but Hawaii was scrappy on a different level,” Belmont freshman setter Channing Salava said. “They would not give up. And their serving went to another level. We had to change the offense.”

The Wahine started running theirs, shaking off the slow start in finally finding a rhythm. Hawaii also found its middles, with senior Nickie Thomas putting down her first swing early in Set 2. She finished with five kills to match her five blocks.

Kanani Danielson led the Wahine attack with eight kills, hitting .368. Aneli Cubi-Otineru, Jamie Houston and Kaufman all finished with seven.

“We are used to playing teams who bang balls, so we had to wait a little longer on the block,” Thomas said. “It took us a while to figure things out.”

Hawaii hit .253 for the night.

“But numbers mean nothing now,” Shoji said. “If we hit negative and can advance. ... It’s all about winning now.”

Tonight’s winner advances to Friday’s regional semifinal hosted by Colorado State.

San Diego, the West Coast Conference champion, ends the year at 23-5. USD was one of five WCC teams that made the tournament, but only Santa Clara remains. The Broncos outlasted Kansas State in five last night.

Belmont returns home to Nashville, Tenn., pleased with its performance.

“I was happy with our effort, our hustle,” Bruins coach Deane Webb said. “It was an experience the team can build on. It was an amazing experience, an honor, to coach against Dave Shoji. He’s been coaching since I was 3 (years old).

“We were similar to them in being aggressive on serving, but they were at a different level. They were more poised for most of the match.”

Note

New Mexico State (26-8), the other Western Athletic Conference representative, won its first NCAA tournament match in three appearances yesterday when eliminating St. Mary’s of the WCC 22-25, 25-16, 25-21, 25-15. The Aggies face host Cal in today’s second round.