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UH-Hilo heads home early


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POSTED: Friday, November 20, 2009

SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. » The University of Hawaii-Hilo women's volleyball team entered the first round of the NCAA Division II West Regional Tournament with one of the better resumes in the entire field.

Having lost just once this season, the Vulcans had already hung a Pacific West Conference championship banner and were among the hottest offensive teams in the tournament.

Then their offense went as cold as the climate where their opponent was from.

With almost no offensive productivity, 14th-ranked and fourth-seeded Hilo was ousted in the first round here in five sets, 29-27, 28-26, 21-25, 16-25, 15-12, by an upstart Alaska-Anchorage team making its first postseason appearance in nearly two decades.

“;For whatever reason, we weren't all on the same page and that slowed our offense down some,”; UH-Hilo coach Bruce Atkinson said. “;This team is capable of going significantly further.

“;We didn't play our game tonight.”;

Anchorage, which was picked to finish seventh in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference but went on to win the conference crown, will play second-ranked and top-seeded tournament host Cal State San Bernardino in the semifinals today.

The tournament is being played in San Bernardino's small gymnasium, since its usual home, the spacious 5,000-seat Coussoulis Arena, was hosting a B.B. King concert last night.

Hawaii-Hilo earned a 3-0 victory over Anchorage in early September, but this one proved much tougher for the Vulcans.

Anchorage, which was making its first postseason appearance since 1990, jumped to an early 10-6 lead and led for all but one point in the first game. UH-Hilo's Josimara Pinheiro gave the Vulcans a 26-25 advantage, but Anchorage rallied for three straight points, capped by a kill by McKenzie Moss from the left side that resulted in an errant block that went out of bounds for the game-winner.

After both sides failed to register a hitting percentage in the first game, the second didn't prove much better as the teams traded leads for much of the match.

Hilo led, 24-23, but failed to put the game away when it broke serve. Anchorage rallied and claimed the game on a kill by Moss.

“;We were nervous,”; said Hilo's Kawena Cubi-Otineru, who had a team-high-tying 12 kills. “;We just couldn't connect with each other.”;

Hilo has been plagued by slow starts in matches of late, and last night was no exception before the Vulcans finally fell into a rhythm in the third game. Hilo held a 17-13 lead before Anchorage rallied to tie. After a Hilo timeout, the Vulcans responded by closing out the game on an 8-4 run to push a fourth game.

Using its bigger front line to its benefit and taking advantage of some poor passing by the Seawolves, Hilo dominated the fourth game and finally showed some offensive prowess, hitting at a .258 clip in the game.

Hilo took a 10-7 lead in the decisive game, but struggled down the stretch, allowing Anchorage to score the final four points of the match and sending the Vulcans on a disappointing trek back to the islands.

“;We didn't feel like we had the momentum,”; Hilo setter Katie Swenson said. “;We just couldn't finish.”;