Wahine happy to extend mainland stay


POSTED: Monday, December 14, 2009

STANFORD, Calif. » The hassle of setting up yet another travel itinerary was annoying.

The last-minute flight booking, trying to avoid any storm that would make an already long trip even longer.

The confirmation of team vans and practice times at an unfamiliar venue.

The concern that players and staff hadn't packed appropriate apparel for the required banquets.

Yesterday morning was nothing but a huge headache, one that Hawaii volleyball coach Dave Shoji welcomed with a big smile.

The thought that his team was making its first NCAA final four appearance since 2003—a trip that few outside the 50th state believed would happen—cured everything, even the reality that this trip to Tampa, Fla., would mean a fifth consecutive week of playing on the road.

The third-ranked Rainbow Wahine's remarkable 32-2 season has been studded with milestones from Shoji's 1,000th career victory to senior hitter Aneli Cubi-Otineru's 1,000th kill. The path to the program's ninth final four had plenty of roadblocks, from a low seed (12) to playing in what was arguably the toughest regional.





        Final four

        At Tampa, Fla.


        » Penn State (36-0) vs. Hawaii (32-2), 2 or 4 p.m.
        » Texas (28-1) vs. Minnesota (28-8), 2 or 4 p.m.



        » Thursday's winners, 3 p.m.
        » TV: ESPNU
        » Radio: Hawaii matches, KKEA, 1420-AM
        » Series: Penn State leads Hawaii 4-0




Saturday's decisive sweep of Michigan “;was more validation than vindication,”; Shoji said yesterday morning in between reading text messages and answering congratulatory calls. “;I think coaches knew we were deserving of a better seed, that we were a better team (than 12). It should be pretty clear to everyone by now.”;

Shoji said he had received dozens of texts, e-mails and calls from random corners of the volleyball world. The majority were from former players, those who couldn't make it to see the wins at the subregional at USC two weeks ago or this past weekend at Stanford.

After the tournament selection show on Nov. 29, Shoji received a text from Penn State coach Russ Rose. It read, “;Sorry. Good luck.”;

Rose should have added, “;C U L8R”; because his top-ranked Nittany Lions (36-0) are Hawaii's opponent in Thursday's semifinal. Penn State, riding a 100-match winning streak, is going for an unprecedented third straight championship.

In what is the best story line of this year's tournament, Rose will go for his 1,000th career win against Shoji, who reached his on Oct. 17.

“;It's pretty ironic that he'll be the next to get 1,000 right after I got mine,”; said Shoji, currently only the second to win that many at the Division I women's level. “;It's an interesting story line this week.”;

Can Hawaii make Rose wait until next season for his 1,000th?

“;I don't see why not,”; Shoji said. “;We have nothing to lose. We're going to be loose and try to find a way to break them down, like we've done every other team.

“;We have a veteran team with a freshman (middle Brittany Hewitt) who's not playing like a freshman. All of our championship teams (AIAW 1979, NCAA 1982, '83, '87) have been undersized. And I hope that Dani (junior setter Mafua) will finally get come credit for getting the team this far.”;

Mafua is the runaway assist leader (179) after the first four matches of the tournament, one of several Wahine players ranked among the top statistically. Hewitt is the leader in total blocks (24), junior libero Elizabeth Ka'aihue tied for the digs lead (62), and sophomore hitter Kanani Danielson is second to Hana Cutura of (eliminated) Cal in points and kills.

Hawaii was scheduled to leave this morning and, barring weather complications, arrive this evening in Tampa. The week's activities include a banquet for the four teams Wednesday and one for the All-Americans on Friday.

Cubi-Otineru, Danielson, Mafua and senior middle Amber Kaufman are eligible for the All-America team after being named to the All-West Region team. Shoji is also up for national coach of the year, which will be announced Thursday.

“;It really hasn't sunk in,”; Shoji said. “;I guess it will kick in when we get to Florida.

“;I'm just so happy for our players, our coaching staff, our fans, the university, the state ... everyone who has supported us this season.”;