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Wahine couldn't meet their high expectations


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POSTED: Monday, December 15, 2008

FORT COLLINS, Colo. » Four seniors are gone, taking more than a third of the team's kills and blocks with them. But the departure of All-American Jamie Houston, all-conference picks Tara Hittle and Nickie Thomas, and academic all-conference Jessica Keefe hardly leaves the Rainbow Wahine's cupboard bare for 2009.

Hawaii expects to return nine players from its 31-4 elite eight team that ranked in the top six in all three offensive categories (hitting percentage, assists and kills) nationally. Back for their senior seasons will be all-conference middle Amber Kaufman and hitter Aneli Cubi-Otineru, as well as setter Dani Mafua, 20th nationally in assists this past season as a sophomore.

Hitter Kanani Danielson, the freshman of the year in both the Western Athletic Conference and West Region, could return with even more accolades. Danielson, who made the regional all-tournament team, is one of the favorites to earn the National Freshman of the Year that will be announced at Wednesday's AVCA All-America banquet.

"All programs have seniors who will have to be replaced, have players waiting to take those places," Hawaii coach Dave Shoji said. "That's true with us. We have people waiting."

The most obvious are sophomore libero Elizabeth Ka'aihue and freshman hitter Stephanie Ferrell. Ka'aihue, on the 2007 WAC all-freshman team, was slowed by injuries and yielded the starting spot to Hittle. Ferrell, still developing as a volleyball player, is the heir apparent to Houston on the right side.

At defensive specialist, Jayme Lee will return for her senior season as will redshirts Emily Maeda and Sarah Prather. Also back as a senior is Stephanie Brandt, Mafua's backup for most of the season but who set the Wahine to the WAC tournament title when Mafua was out with an injury.

The biggest battle will be at middle. Kaufman has one spot with competition for the second among senior Cat Fowler, redshirt freshman Brittany Hewitt and incoming freshman Kristiana Tuaniga.

Besides the four seniors, Hawaii also loses sophomore middle Amanda Simmons, who has been given her release and will transfer. Simmons, from Illinois, appeared briefly in five sets this year and 16 last season.

Hawaii has one scholarship remaining for next season. Shoji said he wasn't sure if he'll save it for 2010 or use it.

"People could become available, someone new or a transfer," he said. "We'll see."

Hawaii fans can look forward to another tough preseason schedule, which will include UCLA and Cal as well as two of this week's final four participants, Texas and Stanford.

Saturday's loss to Stanford disappointed Shoji, not so much that it ended the season, but how. The Wahine lost badly, 25-19, 25-9, 25-18, with the nine points in Set 2 UH's lowest point total since the rally-scoring era began in 2001.

"Obviously the coaching staff didn't do a good enough job at preparing the team," Shoji said. "We had a lot of inexperienced people out there, inexperienced in that they had never been on the national stage in a regional final before.

"From the very beginning of this season, we expected to be in the regional final. I thought we were good right out of the game. (Saturday) we just didn't play our game. Next year, we'll be a year older and a year better."

 

Notes

Houston finishes No. 2 on UH's career kill list (2,061). Her career includes setting the UH record and tying the WAC mark for most conference weekly honors in volleyball. ... Houston is expected to receive All-America recognition on Wednesday. ... Both Thomas and Keefe will graduate on Saturday. ... Hittle returns to play her second and last season with the Wahine basketball team. ... The Wahine again led the country in home attendance in total (136,715) and average (5,944). It was Hawaii's first sub-6,000 average in 14-plus seasons in the Stan Sheriff Center. ... The program passed the 2 million fan mark on Oct. 10 against Louisiana Tech. UH's attendance total in the arena is 2,064,012 since moving from Klum Gym for the San Jose State match on Oct. 21, 1994.