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With UH football finished, volleyball seizes spotlight


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POSTED: Thursday, December 10, 2009

I bumped into a University of Hawaii official at the men's hoops game the other night.

“;Well I guess it's time to focus on basketball,”; he said, citing the end of football season the day before.

“;I've got one word for you,”; I replied. “;Volleyball.”;

“;Before you know it, it will be baseball season,”; the person said.

“;Volleyball,”; I repeated.

The official laughed, and said, “;I like your sense of humor.”;

I didn't know I said something funny.

Sure, tomorrow's opponent in the regional semifinal, Illinois, is seeded higher than the Wahine. So what? Hawaii is ranked No. 3 in the country for a reason — a simple one: The coaches from around the country who vote believe it is the third best squad in the nation, and they have all year. And I trust them way more than I do a seeding committee overly influenced by a ridiculous RPI equation.

With that being said, I don't believe in a conspiracy theory against Hawaii. That kind of thing takes intelligence and conniving. No. 3 team in the country as No. 12 seed in the tournament? That's either flat-out arrogance or ignorance.

THIS MATCH against the Illini is big, and not just for the Wahine and their most avid fans. It's big for the state. After that 51-10 football spanking from Wisconsin to conclude a 6-7 football season and the basketball teams schlepping around with more losses than wins combined, we all need a pick me up.

The big waves gave our isolated sports world a shot in the arm on Tuesday, with a celestial lineup of crazy/courageous surfers challenging nature. It was like Halley's Comet meets the All-Star Game meets running with the bulls.

Eddie would go. But would he go to a UH basketball game?

I don't know. But he would watch the Wahine. We all will if they get to the final four.

TOO SHORT?

Even coach Dave Shoji says the Wahine are small. But he's playing possum, smooth calling with his pocket aces. Last I checked (just now), Brittany Hewitt is 6-3. Now, the Wahine are short at some spots, but not enough to offset their positives, at least in the regional.

Besides, there's plenty else to like about this team and its chances. A sampling:

» Aneli Cubi-Otineru jumping into practice after a class Tuesday, although she could've taken the day off due to her creaky knee.

» Churning bitterness into bullets, using the disappointment of a seed nearly 10 spots lower than they should be to their advantage. Other teams would doubt themselves, making them ripe for the early exit.

» Kanani Danielson exuding poised confidence and humility in equal amounts.

THE HITTERS and blockers get most of the attention. But the setter, Dani Mafua, is the heart of this team, beating at a steady pace so the rest of the parts operate at full efficiency.

“;Dani's the reason we've been good,”; Shoji says. “;I don't think she gets enough credit. She's the reason we can beat good teams, the tempo she creates.”;

Danielson has played with Mafua since club days.

“;She's our quarterback and needs to keep us going in our tempo. You can see the confidence in her. I know I can trust her.”;

Mafua seems immune to pressure, even as an entire state looks to the team she directs for something to cheer about during the holiday season.

“;I like my role. The hitters are going to get the glory. I think it's fun to have control of the game.”;

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Reach Star-Bulletin sports columnist Dave Reardon at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), his “;Quick Reads”; blog at starbulletin.com, and twitter.com/davereardon.