Hawaii has final 4 in its sights


POSTED: Wednesday, December 09, 2009

The Hawaii women's volleyball team has its share of bumps and bruises as it prepares for what has traditionally been the make-or-break weekend of the season.

Senior middle Amber Kaufman didn't practice yesterday, but was at Gym 2 with her teammates rehabbing an abdominal strain that has been bothering her for weeks.

Senior outside hitter Aneli Cubi-Otineru and the rest of the third-ranked Rainbows (30-2) were on the court, and coach Dave Shoji expects to have everyone at his disposal Friday as Hawaii faces No. 8 Illinois in the NCAA regional semifinals at Maples Pavilion in Stanford, Calif.

“;At this point of the year everyone is real sore, tired,”; Shoji said. “;Nothing that is going to keep anybody out.”;

Third-ranked Hawaii has accomplished what has come to be expected. The Western Athletic Conference regular season and tournament titles are theirs, and efficient wins over New Mexico and Southern California last week put them into the NCAA regional semifinals for the 22nd time in 25 years.

But this has become the week that often defines the Wahine. Of the 21 teams that have made it this far over the last quarter-century, only six have gone on to the final four.

It's been six years since Hawaii last made it through the regional finals, a trend that this team hopes to bring to an end.

“;Our main thing is to keep our rhythm,”; sophomore outside hitter Kanani Danielson said. “;Everyone needs to do their job. We have to make sure we put up a good pass so our setter can run a good offense and we have to put it down.”;

The Fighting Illini (26-5) finished second in the Big Ten this season. Six-foot-1 junior Johannah Bangert is the nation's leading blocker, averaging 1.61 per set. Five-foot-10 junior outside Laura DeBruler leads the team in kills (4.5 per set) and 6-3 sophomore Michelle Bartsch is another force in the middle, averaging 1.14 blocks.

“;We can't let (Bangert) take over the match. We'll have to get smart around her,”; Shoji said. “;They're tenacious. They'll keep coming after you.”;

Hawaii will counter with some size of its own, as 6-3 middle Brittany Hewitt has steadily improved throughout her freshman season.

She came up big in last weekend's second-round match against USC. She was in on seven stuffs, including two with Cubi-Otineru for the final points of the match to ensure UH would live on to play this week.

“;(Hewitt) has gotten better almost every time out,”; Shoji said. “;She's gotten much more comfortable.”;

Hawaii will counter Illinois' big middles with an up-tempo offense in which handling the Illini's serve with solid passing will be key.

“;We have to stay in our offense,”; Shoji said. “;If we stay in-tempo, or in-system as we call it, I like our chances. But the minute we pass poorly and have to go high, that usually means we're going to be in trouble.”;

No. 16 Michigan (26-9) and fourth-ranked Stanford (23-7) will play in the other regional semifinal. Should UH and Stanford win on Friday, it'd be a rematch of the regional final from a year ago that the Cardinal won in three sets.

Hawaii earned a measure of revenge with a three-game sweep over the Cardinal at home in September, but hasn't beaten Stanford in the postseason since the 1987 NCAA title game. UH is 0-3 in the postseason against the Cardinal since, with two of those losses coming in the final.

“;Yeah, it's something we want to happen,”; junior setter Dani Mafua said.

“;It's a possible matchup if we take care of business, but It's not something we talk about.

“;We'll let our play do the talking.”;





        » What: NCAA Regional semifinals

        » Who: No. 3 Hawaii (30-2) vs. No. 8 Illinois (26-5)

        » When: Friday

        » Where: Maples Pavilion, Stanford, Calif.

        » TV: None Friday. Saturday's regional final will be shown live on ESPNU

        » Radio: KKEA, 1420-AM