Wahine face a challenge


POSTED: Friday, August 28, 2009

The idea was to save the school money. But Western Michigan's decision to eschew a Waikiki hotel for a rental home in Kaneohe is paying back dividends to the Bronco volleyball team.

“;It's an amazing place, so beautiful,”; WMU coach Colleen Munson said of the complex overlooking Kaneohe Bay. “;The players have the main house and the coaches are in cottages.

“;Everyone is loving it and it's been a great bonding experience. The players are cooking dinner at night. And it's not a bad drive.”;

Not compared to the 3 hours it took this week to drive from Kalamazoo, Mich., to catch a plane in Chicago.

Still, it's anything but a vacation for the Broncos, who advanced to the NCAA Sweet 16 last December and were eliminated by eventual national champion Penn State. With all seven starters returning from a 28-7 team, the goal is to get even farther in postseason play.

“;We have experience, and the chemistry is very, very strong,”; Munson said. “;Our newcomers are learning by example from the upperclassmen. It's all about doing something, not just talking about it, about getting us where we want to go.”;

The road includes this week's Chevron Invitational. The Broncos open with No. 7 Hawaii tonight, then No. 9 UCLA tomorrow and No. 25 Santa Clara on Sunday. It's reminiscent of WMU's trip out here in 2005, when the Hawaiian Airlines Classic field included No. 4 Hawaii, No. 5 Penn State and No. 7 USC.

It was Munson's first season at WMU and the Broncos went 0-3.

“;She had just been hired and, if I recollect, they got hammered,”; Hawaii coach Dave Shoji said. “;She's been wanting to come back ever since. I know she must have a good team because she wouldn't have wanted to come back if it wasn't the case.

“;What we know about them is they won two matches in the NCAA tournament, have everybody back and are just a solid, balanced ballclub.”;

Munson said she expects the same when seeing the Rainbow Wahine tonight.

“;We're still looking at our side of the net, but we know they'll be well-coached and be the type of competition we expect from a top team,”; she said. “;And I'm looking forward to Hawaii's crowd. It's not just their enthusiasm. It's the respect they have for the game.”;

A look at the teams:

No. 7 Hawaii (31-4)

The Rainbow Wahine return four starters, including sophomore hitter Kanani Danielson, the preseason Western Athletic Conference player of the year, and senior middle Amber Kaufman. Joining the two on the preseason All-WAC team are senior hitter Aneli Cubi-Otineru, junior setter Dani Mafua and sophomore hitter Stephanie Ferrell.

Redshirt freshman Brittany Hewitt will start in the middle with Kaufman, while junior Elizabeth Ka'aihue has won the hotly contested libero position. Expect two sophomore transfers—middle Lex Forsythe and hitter Corinne Cascioppo—to see action this weekend.

Hawaii coach Dave Shoji (35th season, 984-173-1) is poised to become just the second Division I women's volleyball coach to notch 1,000 victories.

Hawaii is 28-7 in season openers but has lost three of its last four. The Wahine lead the series with Western Michigan 3-0, Santa Clara 8-0 and UCLA 34-32.

No. 9 UCLA (22-11)

The Bruins make their annual trek to the islands with a solid core of returnees, including a pair of tall sophomore middles in 6-foot-6 Amanda Gil and 6-5 Katie Camps.

Senior hitter Kaitlin Sather returns after sitting out last season following shoulder surgery. She led the team in kills per set (3.76) in 2008.

The biggest question mark has been who would replace three-time All-America setter Nellie Spicer. Earning the start tonight will be freshman Lauren Cook, the MaxPreps national player of the year and daughter of Nebraska volleyball coach John Cook.

UCLA coach Andy Banachowski (39th season, 1,082-292) is the only Division I women's volleyball coach to win 1,000 matches.

UCLA has won the last four matches against Hawaii but trails in the series 34-32. The Bruins are 2-1 against Santa Clara and 3-0 vs. Western Michigan.

No. 25 Santa Clara (18-10)

Three starters are back for the Broncos, including preseason All-West Coast Conference picks Lindsy Davigeadono, a senior who has moved from setter to hitter, and 6-2 junior hitter Krista Kelley.

Santa Clara's biggest loss was three-time All-America middle Anna Cmaylo. Emily Burke, a junior transfer from San Jose State, is battling for the setter spot with redshirt freshman Samantha Selsky and freshman Alexandra Palmer.

Palmer is part of the 11th-ranked recruiting class in the country, tops in the WCC, and most are expected to play this weekend.

Coach Jon Wallace is in his 11th season (213-88).

Sunday's 11 a.m. match with Western Michigan will be the first meeting between the schools.

Western Michigan (28-7)

These Broncos have all seven starters back, led by senior Jillian Mitchell, the Mid-American Conference setter of the year, and senior Caitlin Strimel, the MAC libero of the year. Mitchell recorded the program's third triple-double last season (45 assists, 11 digs, 11 kills) in the NCAA second-round victory over Tulane.

Junior hitter Michelle Moore averaged 3.89 kps last year and senior hitter Katie Eberling 2.77. Anchoring the middle is junior Kate Corbett, who played her freshman season at Pacific under new Hawaii men's coach Charlie Wade.

The Broncos are picked to win the MAC. WMU has lost 16 straight matches against Top 25 teams, dating back to 2003.

Coach Colleen Munson is in her fifth season (90-43).


Three freshmen will redshirt for Hawaii: middles Kristiana Tuaniga and Paige Mitchell, and libero Kristina Kam. Junior liberos Alexis Robins and Alex Griffiths, both transfers, have been offered the option as well.