Hawaii not intimidated


POSTED: Wednesday, December 16, 2009

TAMPA, Fla. » Expect the unexpected when it comes to the Hawaii volleyball team.

Or maybe not.

Many equate Hawaii with beaches. That's where the Rainbow Wahine could be found after yesterday's practice at the University of Tampa.

Many did not equate Hawaii volleyball with the NCAA final four. And yet the Wahine are here, trying to shake off the moniker of underdog much like the sand from the Clearwater beach they visited.

“;We do want to make a statement,”; junior setter Dani Mafua said. “;Our goal from the start of the season was to make it here and I don't think we're done yet.

“;A lot of people have doubted us, but I believe in my heart that as long as we play hard, play smart, play together, everything will take care of itself.”;

It has so far with No. 3 Hawaii riding a 28-match win streak into tomorrow's semifinal with two-time defending champion Penn State (36-0). By comparison, the ride the top-ranked Nittany Lions are on—an NCAA record 100 straight victories—looks more like a heat at the Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational.







 Penn StateHawaiiMinnesotaTexas
Hittng percentage.394.313.256.341
Kills per set14.7714.6313.9314.54
Assists per set13.7813.5912.9213.32
Aces per set1.471.730.981.08
Digs per set12.8613.4915.9813.70
Blocks per set3.232.462.773.03



Still ... Dave Shoji would go.

The No. 2 all-time winningest coach in Division I is not in the “;we're just happy to be here”; mode, as evidenced by his eschewing this morning's AVCA convention golf tournament.

“;I'm not going to say we have nothing to lose,”; Shoji said. “;That sounds like a defeatist attitude, like we're supposed to lose.

“;I think we can win this match.”;

So do the rest of the Wahine.

“;Everyone at the final four is a great team,”; sophomore hitter Kanani Danielson said. “;It's a good feeling that we made it here, now we want an even better feeling. We would love to have that opportunity to be in (Saturday's) final.

“;Our goal is to stay focused, chill out and play our game. If anything's going to beat us, it's going to be ourselves. We just need to play our game.”;

Hawaii will have to do it with the same nagging injuries as last week. Senior middle Amber Kaufman didn't fully participate in yesterday's practice (abdominal strain), but is likely to play; senior hitter Cat Fowler (sprained ankle) didn't practice at all and is doubtful for tomorrow.

Kaufman is one of four Hawaii players who will learn today if they were named to the All-America team. Also in the running for the honor are senior hitter Aneli Cubi-Otineru, Danielson and Mafua.



Here's a look at the teams in this weekend's NCAA volleyball final four in Tampa, Fla., in order of ranking:

No. 1 Penn State (36-0)

The two-time defending national champion has won an NCAA-record 100 consecutive matches, dating back to the 2007 season. The Nittany Lions, attempting to become the first to win three straight NCAA titles, advanced with sweeps of Binghamton and Penn in the subregional, and No. 14 Florida and No. 10 Cal in last week's regional at Gainesville, Fla.

Coach Russ Rose, 999-159 in his 31st season, is one win away from joining UCLA's Andy Banachowski and Hawaii's Dave Shoji as the only Division I women's volleyball coaches to win 1,000. Rose has won three national titles (1999, 2007, '08) and 11 Big Ten titles.

Penn State is making its 29th NCAA tournament appearance. PSU and Stanford are the only schools not to have missed the NCAA postseason.

The Nittany Lions are led by All-American senior hitter Megan Hodge (4.75 kps, .399, 2.41 dps), named the regional's most outstanding player last week. Also named to the all-tournament team were junior middle Blair Brown and junior middle Arielle Wilson (2.81 kps, 1.55 bps), who leads the country in hitting percentage (.559).

No. 2 Texas (28-1)

The Longhorns are making their 26th NCAA tournament appearance with one national title. Texas beat Hawaii in 1988 in the NCAA's first championship match that featured two non-California teams.

The Big 12 champs have won their last 10, with the only loss coming in five at Iowa State on Nov. 4. They advanced to their second consecutive final four with sweeps of Texas State and TCU in the subregional, and a 3-0 win over Texas A&M and a 3-1 win over Nebraska last weekend.

The Longhorns are led by senior All-America hitter Destinee Hooker (4.95 kps), the Big 12 player of the year and the Omaha Regional MOP. Texas also has junior All-America hitter Juliann Faucette (3.23 kps) and All-America senior setter/opposite Ashley Engle (8.86 aps). Sophomore defensive specialist Sydney Yogi (Punahou '08) is averaging 1.95 dps.

Coach Jerritt Elliott, on the Hawaii men's roster for one year, is in his ninth season (213-63).

No. 3 Hawaii (32-2)

The Rainbow Wahine, the only team not to play at home at all during the past two weeks, have won 28 straight, dating back to a five-set loss to Cal on Sept. 6. They are making their 28th NCAA tournament appearance and their ninth final four appearance, first since 2003.

Hawaii swept New Mexico and topped host USC in four in the subregional, and defeated No. 8 Illinois in four and No. 16 Michigan in three last weekend.

The Wahine are led by sophomore hitter Kanani Danielson, the Stanford Regional MOP, who is averaging 5.14 kps in four tourney matches and .425 kps overall. She was joined on the all-regional team by senior hitter Aneli Cubi-Otineru (3.08 kps, 56 aces), junior setter Dani Mafua (11.81 aps) and sophomore hitter Stephanie Ferrell (2.62 kps)

Senior middle Amber Kaufman (2.46 kps, 41 aces) is fourth nationally in hitting percentage (.434) and middle Brittany Hewitt, the conference freshman of the year, is leading the NCAA tournament in total blocks (24).

Coach Dave Shoji is in his 35th season (1,016-175-1) and became the second Division I women's coach to win 1,000 when Hawaii defeated New Mexico State on Oct. 17. He has led the Wahine to four national titles (AIAW 1979, NCAA 1982, '83, '87).

No. 11 Minnesota (28-8)

The Golden Gophers were the only regional hosts to advance to the final four, defeating both No. 25 Colorado State and No. 12 Florida State in four last week. Minnesota opened the tournament with a 3-1 win over Louisville and a sweep of Tennessee.

Mike Hebert is in his 13th season with the Golden Gophers (328-118) and is 900-375 in 35 seasons overall. He also had Illinois in the final four in 1987 and '88, losing to Hawaii both times in the semifinals.

The Golden Gophers have won seven straight, last losing to Michigan 3-0 on Nov. 20.

Junior middle blocker Lauren Gibbemeyer is one of only two players in the nation to be in the top 12 in blocks (1.45 bps) and hitting percentage (.393). Freshman hitter Tabitha Love (2.65 kps) was named the regional MOP (2.65 kps), and senior setter Taylor Carico (10.70 aps), who transferred from USC after last season, was also on the all-regional team.