Bring on Michigan


POSTED: Saturday, December 12, 2009

STANFORD, Calif. » A wild card and a couple of aces. The shuffled lineup didn't ruffle No. 3 Hawaii a bit yesterday.

The 12th-seeded Rainbow Wahine dealt with what sophomore hitter Stephanie Ferrell called “;a little bit of adversity”; — the loss of senior middle Amber Kaufman — and played themselves into tonight's NCAA volleyball regional final against surprising Michigan.

Ferrell, the wild card in Hawaii's offense, put down a career-high 19 kills and the Wahine pulled out their aces — sophomore hitter Kanani Danielson's 21 kills and the 1,000-kill milestone by senior hitter Aneli Cubi-Otineru — in eliminating the Fighting Illini 21-25, 25-10, 27-25, 25-16 in 1 hour and 50 minutes.

Hawaii (31-2) puts its 27-match winning streak up against a third Big Ten team in four matches when facing the Wolverines (27-9). Alex Hunt led a balanced Michigan attack with 18 kills in a 25-18, 23-25, 25-22, 25-11 upset of No. 4 Stanford (23-8).

The Cardinal had reached the national title match the past three years, finishing second each time. The loss prevented a rematch of last year's regional final won by Stanford in straight sets.

Although the Wahine are advancing to their second consecutive regional final — third in four years — “;this was huge for the program,”; Hawaii coach Dave Shoji said. “;We're the only non-BCS school left. We feel like we're representing all the non-BCS teams out there.

“;It's more important for us, the coaches. Our players don't care. They feel they're as good as anyone in the country.”;






» Who: No. 3 Hawaii (31-2) vs. No. 16 Michigan (27-9)
        » When: Today, 6:30 p.m.
        » Where: Stanford, Calif.
        » Radio: KKEA, 1420-AM
        » TV: ESPNU
        » Series: Hawaii leads 2-1


There is no argument from Illinois coach Kevin Hambly.

“;I think they're a final four team,”; he said after his first year as a head coach ended at 26-6. “;They are a great team, very athletic, and won the serve-receive game.

“;I was not surprised Ferrell went off. They were fast to the pins and put a lot of pressure on our block. We got them out of system in Sets 1 and 3, but couldn't do it enough.

“;It's a shame Kaufman was out. She's such a great weapon and I felt bad they didn't have their full team, but it didn't hurt them.”;

Kaufman reaggravated an abdominal strain that she had been nursing for several weeks. Sophomore middle Lex Forsythe, who hadn't seen much action since Nov. 12 with a minor leg injury, had practiced in Kaufman's spot the past two weeks.

Forsythe got the call late in Set 1. Kaufman left with one kill, taking her 2.47 kills per set and .434 hitting percentage with her.

The 6-foot-4 Forsythe eventually shook off the rust and “;she touched a lot of balls, and that was critical in this match,”; Shoji said. “;I thought she did a marvelous job.”;

So did 6-3 freshman middle Brittany Hewitt, who was in on seven of Hawaii's 11 blocks. Hewitt also spent some time at the service line “;for probably the third time this season,”; she said. “;And the first time I absolutely had to serve.”;

Hawaii's tough serving kept Illinois out of system all match. The Wahine had eight aces, four by Cubi-Otineru.

Cubi-Otineru dominated Set 2, becoming the 16th UH player to reach the 1,000-kill mark while giving her team a 7-3 lead. Her 6-0 serving run included two aces and helped put Hawaii ahead 15-4.

While her 1,000th was important, Cubi-Otineru's 1,003rd and 1,004th were the key to the match. At 25-25 in Set 3, the senior came through with consecutive kills to give Hawaii a 27-25 win and a 2-1 lead.

As they had in Set 2, the Wahine pulled away in Set 4. A back-row kill from Cubi-Otineru gave Hawaii its largest lead at 18-7 and, after the IIlini pulled to within 18-12, the Wahine closed it out on a 7-4 run, capped by Ferrell's final two kills.

“;We had tried to downplay the 1,000-kill thing, it's such an individual thing,”; Shoji said. “;We didn't talk about it.

“;Aneli was terrific tonight. She's not 100 percent and she played with a lot of heart. All she said after the match was 'I got it.' “;

The victory gives Hawaii a chance at reaching the final four for the first time since the 2003 team finished third.

Michigan 3, Stanford 1

Tough serving (eight aces) and a balanced attack (four players in double-figure kills) vaulted the Wolverines into their first regional final.

“;Hawaii is very good at the things they do and we're very similar in style,”; said Michigan coach Mark Rosen, whose team finished fourth in the Big Ten. “;We're balanced, have a great setter, are a good sideout team, serve aggressively ... you can say the same things about Hawaii.

“;They ball-control exceptionally well, serve the heck out of the ball, their outsides are super aggressive. If both teams play well, it will be a great regional final.”;

Alix Klineman had 18 kills for Stanford, which failed to give coach John Dunning his 700th career victory.


Kaufman's playing status today will be a match-time decision.




NO. 3 HAWAII DEF. NO. 8 ILLINOIS 21-25, 25-10, 27-25, 25-16
        FIGHTING ILLINI (26-6)









Key — s: games; k: kills; e: hitting errors; att: attempts; pct: hitting percentage; d: digs; bs: block solo; ba: block assists; pts: points (kills plus blocks plus aces)
        Aces — Illinois (2): DeBruler, Haen. Hawaii (8): Cubi-Otineru 4, Lee 2, Mafua 2. Service Errors — Illinois (4): Bartsch, DeBruler, Feldman, Wolfe. Hawaii (2): Brandt, Cubi-Otineru. Assists — Illinois (48): Haen 43, Wolfe 3, Bartsch, Feldman. Hawaii (57): Mafua 51, Kaaihue 4, Brandt, Cubi-Otineru.
        T — 1:50. Officials — Mary Blaylock, Eric Asami. A — 2,062.