Stanford regional stacked


POSTED: Friday, December 11, 2009

Stanford, Calif. » File this one under “;P”; ... as in Poison.

Pick it, any team in this NCAA regional, that is. Each plays its own lethal brand of volleyball, as evidenced in the 105-23 combined record.

Seeding be damned — although all four are seeded. Few will argue that Maples Pavilion has a quartet of legitimate contenders for a berth in next week's final four in Tampa, Fla.

There is no tomorrow for two of them. Outside of a certain group of fans, no one is thinking ahead to the potential regional final that would pit Hawaii against host Stanford tomorrow.

It would be a rematch of last year's regional final at Fort Collins, Colo., won in straight sets by the Cardinal. The Rainbow Wahine played poorly that day, something that has haunted the returning players for a year.

It also would be a rematch of September's meeting at the Stan Sheriff Center, won by Hawaii in a sweep. Stanford left Honolulu not pleased with its performance but more than made up for it by winning the Pac-10 title in the following months.

Last year and last September are in today's conversation.

“;We're just trying to get to the next round,”; Hawaii coach Dave Shoji said. “;We're not thinking about Stanford at all.”;

; A Big Ten team stands in the way of both fourth-seeded Stanford (23-7) and 12th-seeded Hawaii (30-2). No. 13 seed Michigan (26-9) wants to go where the Wolverines have never gone, while fifth-seeded Illinois (26-5) is looking to get back to the final four for the first time since 1988, when it fell to Hawaii in the national semifinal for the second year in a row.

“;Certainly, Illinois has a rich tradition, but it's nowhere close to the level of success Hawaii has had,”; first-year Illini coach Kevin Hambly said. “;Hawaii is one of the upper echelon teams in the NCAA and has been for over 30 years.

“;Dave (Shoji) has been on top since the sport moved from the AIAW to the NCAA. They are at a level that every program strives for.”;

Hambly has seen a lot of video on Hawaii and is impressed.

“;They play at a very high level and they are exciting to watch,”; the former BYU player said. “;Their ball control and defense is as good as anyone I've seen this year.

“;They have a lot of weapons and are very balanced on offense. I have to say that (senior hitter Aneli) Cubi-Otineru is one of my favorite players I have watched this year — she has so much game. They are very difficult to prepare for.”;

Both Shoji and Hambly feel their teams match up well against each other. And they're looking forward to their chess match.

“;They're scrappy and a little small on the left, just like us,”; Shoji said. “;(Hambly) has been at the highest level of coaching and he's paid his dues. He'll have his team ready.”;

“;We are not a tall team, but, like Hawaii, we are athletic and are a very aggressive attacking and blocking team,”; said Hambly, the assistant for the 2004 U.S. Olympic team. “;We also have a lot of volleyball players, an entire team that can handle a serve, play defense and set. That is where I think we are similar to Hawaii. Their players can all play the game, too.

“;When I saw the (tournament bracket), I thought immediately that Hawaii was seeded too low and I knew they were going to be upset about that. But I think we are the ones who should be upset because we have to play them.”;





        Here's a look at the teams in this weekend's NCAA volleyball regional hosted in Stanford, Calif., in order of seeding:



No. 4 Stanford (23-7)

        The Cardinal, ranked No. 4, swept Long Island, then rallied to beat Saint Mary's in five last week to advance to a fourth straight regional semifinal.

Three all-region picks lead Stanford — junior hitter Alix Klineman (4.24 kps, 2.23 dps), senior middle Janet Okogbaa (2.83 kps, 1.26 bps) and versatile junior hitter/setter Cassidy Lichtman (3.19 kps, 2.78 dps). Junior libero Gabi Ailes set the single-season digs record last month and has 604 this season.


Stanford has won its last eight, three of the matches going five, en route to a fourth straight Pac-10 title. The Cardinal's last loss was Nov. 16 at then-No. 4 Washington in three.


Stanford and Penn State are the only schools to appear in all 29 NCAA tournaments. The Cardinal have won more NCAA titles (6), made more final four appearances (18), been in more national championship matches (14) and won more tournament matches (94) than any program in the country.


Coach John Dunning is in his ninth year at Stanford (262-44) and is one win away from his 700th career victory. He has two national championships each at Stanford and Pacific.




No. 5 Illinois (26-5)

        The Fighting Illini, ranked No. 8, swept IPFW and defeated Dayton 3-1 last week to advance to their 11th Sweet 16.

Illinois is led by junior hitter Laura DeBruher (4.50 kps, 2.76 dps), an all-regional selection, senior hitter Kylie McCulley (3.05 kps, 2.41 dps) and sophomore hitter Michelle Bartsch (3.05 kps, 1.14 bps). Junior middle Johannah Bangert, a transfer from Washington, leads the country in blocks (1.61 bps).


Illinois lost its career digs leader, senior Ashley Edinger, to a torn ACL against Purdue on Oct. 9. Sophomore Rachel Feldman has filled in nicely, setting a school NCAA tournament single-match record last week with 26 digs. She also had four of the team's 11 aces in a sweep on Nov. 20 against Iowa.


The Illini, making their 11th appearance in the NCAA tournament, finished second in the Big Ten to defending national champion Penn State. Illinois is 6-1 in its last seven matches, the loss coming at Minnesota 3-0 in the Big Ten season finale.


Kevin Hambly is in his first year as Illini head coach after four years as the program's assistant. His previous experience includes the U.S. national team (2001-04) and assistant to former Wahine All-American Deitre Collins at UNLV (1996-2001).




No. 12 Hawaii (30-2)

        The Rainbow Wahine, ranked No. 3, swept New Mexico and topped host USC in four last week to advance to their 11th regional semifinal in 12 seasons. They have won their last 26, dating back to a five-set loss to then-No. 6 Cal on Sept. 6; their other loss came in four to No. 2 Texas the day before.

Hawaii is the only team in this regional to play on the road for a second consecutive week. The other three all hosted the first two rounds.


The Wahine are led by their four all-region selections: sophomore hitter Kanani Danielson (4.23 kps, 2.29 dps), senior hitter Aneli Cubi-Otineru (3.11 kps, 2.51 dps, 51 aces), senior middle Amber Kaufman (2.47 kps, .434, 40 aces) and junior setter Dani Mafua (11.78 aps, 1.76 dps). Middle Brittany Hewitt, the Western Athletic Conference freshman of the year, is 16th nationally in blocks (1.36 bps).


Hawaii is making its 28th NCAA tournament appearance, missing only the injury-plagued 1992 season.


Wahine coach Dave Shoji is in his 35th season (1,014-175-1, 4 national titles). Hawaii leads the series with Illinois 7-1, including 3-0 in the postseason.


Kaufman, who sat out practice earlier this week (strained abdominal), practiced yesterday. Sitting out yesterday was senior Cat Fowler (sprained right ankle).




No. 13 Michigan (26-9)

        The Wolverines, ranked No. 16, swept Niagara, then rallied from an 0-2 deficit to top Ohio in five to reach the sweet 16 for the third consecutive year. Michigan closed out the Big Ten season with consecutive losses at Ohio State and at Penn State to finish 12-8 (tied for fourth) in the conference.

Senior hitter Juliana Paz (3.66 kps, 2.27 dps) and senior middle Veronica Rood (2.40 kps) lead the Wolverines. Paz and junior setter Lexi Zimmerman (11.04 aps) are both all-region selections, Zimmerman is the first in UM history to be honored three consecutive seasons.


Senior right-side hitter Megan Bower (1.62 kps, 2.89 dps) is the second Michigan player to record 1,300 digs and 500 kills.


This is Michigan's 10th NCAA appearance.


Coach Mark Rosen is in his 11th season (215-143).