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Wahine already give us a reason to be excited


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POSTED: Monday, August 31, 2009

It's not supposed to look this easy.

In recent years, when Hawaii played UCLA in volleyball it was the Bruins dominating the Wahine. Go back to when UH was winning, back before the current seniors were here, and the Wahine victories were hard-earned, gut-wrenching wars going a tough four or five sets (actually games back then).

Go farther back, UH coach Dave Shoji reminds us, and the Wahine owned the Bruins. Hawaii still leads the series 35-32.

But what we saw yesterday—not last night, because it went so fast everyone got home before dark—was the Wahine dispatching the Bruins in a tidy 1 hour and 34 minutes. The Bruins would have no problem making their flight back to California.

Right now, there is a lot of drop-off between No. 7 and No. 9 in the country.

MAKE NO mistake, this was a big win for Hawaii. UCLA is young, but they're still UCLA. The Wahine weren't flawless, but they were unflappable. When things began to look just the least bit bad, when momentum would creep toward the visitors, UH quickly grabbed it back.

More often than not, it was Aneli Cubi-Otineru at critical junctures taking control, with her serving, defense and a bottomless bag of hitting tricks. She even contributed a great out-of-system crosscourt set that Kanani Danielson pounded for one of her match-high 16 kills.

Stephanie Ferrell found the UCLA pukas after a sluggish start. “;Staying calm, not freaking out,”; she said.

High-level volleyball players always act like they've won Megabucks after every point. Then, after this match, they and the coaches display the emotion of a bunch of folks who have just played each other for fun at the beach instead of written the latest chapter in one of college sports' most long-standing rivalries.

They know, especially Shoji and UCLA coach Andy Banachowski (a combined 76 years at their jobs), that a lot can happen between now and December. The crowd at the Sheriff Center was reminded of that when Danielson went down with an ankle tweak that looked a lot worse than what it was (she returned to play a few minutes later).

YES, IT'S very early. But how are Hawaii fans not supposed to get excited? The Wahine look like they've got all the parts. Experienced and explosive hitters, solid passing and setting and game-changing serving, which Banachowski credited as the biggest factor in the outcome. “;They were better all the way around because of it.”;

UH's one question mark, size in the middle, looks like it's answered by 6-foot-3 freshman Brittany Hewitt. She was in on five blocks—just one fewer than UCLA's 6-foot-6 Amanda Gil, last year's Pac-10 freshman of the year. And she was an example of what Banachowski said about the serving—she scored on an overpass caused by a tough Cubi-Otineru offering at a key point of the third.

When UH needed a play, it got one, from one of many sources. When UCLA needed one, players collided.

When UH got a lead, it held on and closed out. When UCLA led the last set 5-0, Hawaii chipped away and won going away.

“;We were in control at the end,”; Shoji said.