WAC wars start for Wahine


POSTED: Thursday, September 24, 2009

The roller-coaster ride that is Hawaii's volleyball season takes a huge plunge down the track this week with the opening of Western Athletic Conference play. After starting off the year with eight of 11 matches against Top 25 teams—and finding success in all but two—the fourth-ranked Rainbow Wahine (9-2) are looking at an overall drop in the level of competition that rivals Waimea Canyon.

Consider this: Two WAC members are 0-10, including Boise State, Hawaii's opponent tonight at the Stan Sheriff Center. Barely half of the conference is above .500 with New Mexico State—the closest thing to a rival the Wahine have had the past few seasons—getting to 5-4 courtesy of Tuesday's win over UTEP.




#7 .:. COUNTDOWN TO 1,000

        Boise State (0-10) at No. 4 Hawaii (9-2)

When: 7 p.m. today, Stan Sheriff Center


Radio: ESPN 1420-AM


TV: KFVE (Ch. 5)


Tickets: $5-$17




“;On paper, the WAC seems to be down,”; Hawaii coach Dave Shoji said. “;The wins are down and, looking at the scores, the league as a whole seems to be down. It surprises me a little because we're all trying to upgrade our rosters. But it's tough to recruit to our conference.

“;For us, we've got to keep motivated and guard against complacency because you can get beat otherwise. It's happened to us before.”;

Think Utah State in 2007. Think New Mexico State in 2008. Both were sweeps. Both were at the Stan Sheriff Center, where Hawaii is 274-32 since the arena opened in 1994.

Still, the Wahine have dominated the conference, with a 186-4 regular-season record and the last nine WAC tournament titles.

A look at the teams, based on the coaches' preseason poll:


Hawaii (9-2)

The Wahine had one of the toughest preseason schedules in the country and, with the exception of the five-set loss to Cal, have met or exceeded their early goals.

If there has been a surprise, it is the emergence of freshman middle Brittany Hewitt, who leads the country in blocking (1.63 bps). Hawaii has better size and balance this season, with offensive threats at every position.

Junior setter Dani Mafua ranks 13th nationally in assists (11.50) and senior middle Amber Kaufman 12th in hitting percentage (.429). Serving has been tough, led by senior hitter Aneli Cubi-Otineru's 22 aces, and sophomore hitter Kanani Danielson, the WAC preseason player of the year, continues to impress.

The 1,000th victory for the program came via the sweep of then-No. 10 Stanford Sept. 12. The next milestone will be Shoji's 1,000th career victory that, barring a major upset, will come against Louisiana Tech on Oct. 13.


New Mexico State (5-4)

The Aggies, who shared the regular-season WAC title with the Wahine, may be hard-pressed to repeat that feat.

Leading NMSU are preseason All-WAC senior hitters Kayleigh Giddens (3.29 kps) and Krista Altermatt (2.97 kps). Sophomore libero Kelsi Phillips (3.90 dps) is filling the void left by the graduation of All-WAC Krystal Torres, now an assistant at Hawaii Pacific.

Coach Mike Jordan picked up his 250th victory Aug. 29 with a 3-1 win over host North Texas. The Aggies' losses have come against Top 25 teams Florida State and Illinois at home, as well as to Notre Dame and Wisconsin on the road.


Utah State (8-4)

The Aggies are off to their best start since opening 9-4 in 2003. They went 2-1 last week with wins over Butler and Robert Morris and a 3-2 loss to host Kent State.

Junior libero Christine Morrill leads the WAC in digs (4.14 dps), junior setter Chelsea Fowles is second in assists (10.04 aps) and sophomore hitter Liz McArthur is second in kills (3.79 kps).

USU has a big five-set win over in-state rival BYU but has disappointing losses to Gonzaga (3-2), Utah Valley (3-1) and Utah (3-2).


Idaho (4-7)

The Vandals' block, second in the country at 1.57 bps, has bothered many opponents ... but not enough as they've lost their last six. The biggest win came in five on the road against Loyola Marymount.

Anchoring Idaho's block are senior middles Anna McKinney (1.57 bps) and Debbie Pederson (1.35 bps), both among the top 20 nationally in blocks. McKinney is eighth on the school's career assist block list and Pederson is No. 11.

Idaho won't play its first home match until Oct. 3, its 15th match of the season. The Vandals are at San Jose State tonight before playing the Wahine on Saturday.


Nevada (4-9)

If the Wolf Pack can get to Set 5, they're in great shape. All four of their wins have come in five.

Nevada went 1-2 in each of the four pre-WAC tournaments and were swept Tuesday at Sac State. Junior Kylie Harrington (St. Francis '07) has led the Pack in kills in 11 of 13 matches and posted double-figure kills in 11 of the contests.

Sophomore setter Tatiana Santiago (Kamehameha '08) and freshman hitter Elissa Ji (Maryknoll '09) still are trying to get into the starting lineup permanently.


San Jose State (0-10)

The Spartans haven't shied away from tough competition, playing five Top 25 teams, including three in a row coming into this week. Their first home match is tonight against Idaho.

Last weekend, SJSU was swept by UC Irvine and host San Diego.

Senior libero/hitter Kristal Tsukano (Kamehameha '06) is third on the career digs list, 269 away from being No. 2. She is the only Spartan to make an all-tournament team this season.

Freshman setter Caitlin Andrade (Kamehameha '09) became the second Spartans setter to record a triple-double (32 assists, 12 digs, 10 kills) in the Sept. 9 loss at Saint Mary's.

Freshman hitter Taylor Japhet leads the team in kills (2.56 kps). Also making an instant impact is freshman hitter Alex Akana (Kamehameha '09) who is second in kills and blocks.


Fresno State (7-5)

The Bulldogs have lost four of their last five, but already have as many wins as last year (7-20), the most since the 2004 team went 15-13. Last week, they were swept by Portland and No. 5 USC.

FSU's strength has been blocking. The Bulldogs rank 19th nationally (2.68 bps) and sophomore hitter Brianna Clark is 20th (1.35 bps). Senior hitter Lacey Gera (2.46 kps) and junior middle Lauren Berger (2.24 kps) lead FSU's attack.

The Bulldogs hold the record for futility against Hawaii. The Wahine lead the series 44-0.


Boise State (0-10)

To put it kindly, the Broncos are struggling under first-year coach Shawn Garus, who took over June 30.

Among BSU's losses are sweeps by No. 3 Washington and No. 20 UC Irvine. The Broncos are coming off a 3-1 loss to Utah Valley last Thursday, only one of four matches in which they've won a set.

Junior hitter Alisha King Young (2.22 kps) and freshman hitter Liz Harden (2.06 kps) lead BSU. Junior middle Sadie Maughan, who led the WAC in hitting last week (.412), is 34th nationally in blocks (1.29).


Louisiana Tech (10-6)

The Lady Techsters are looking for their second WAC win in four seasons at home against Utah State tonight.

LaTech is coming off a 3-1 win over McNeese State on Tuesday, when it dropped Set 1 25-8. Junior middle Kara Jones led the team with 10 kills and added four more solo blocks to bring her WAC-leading total to 16, and junior libero Lori Hunsucker had her seventh consecutive double-figure dig match with 12. Sophomore hitter Nataliya Panova, a transfer from Houston, leads the WAC with five double-doubles.

No real marquee victories for the Lady Techsters, but they've already more than doubled their win total of last year (4-23).