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Bigger is better ... at least on this night at the final 4


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POSTED: Friday, December 18, 2009

TAMPA, Fla. » Is it really that simple?

Is it really all about height?

It was last night at the St. Pete Times Forum, where Hawaii finished one of its best volleyball seasons in recent years ... or, more correctly, Penn State finished it for the Rainbow Wahine.

Size was undeniably the difference.

After the first game, it was as if Dave Shoji's team had taken a stick and poked a sleeping monster—a really big one.

Penn State shook off the first punch and showed why it hasn't lost in 101 matches. It dominated the net, leading to a gradual but decisive and thorough breakdown of the Wahine.

“;We outblocked them 15-0. That's the answer to why the match went the way it went.”;

That was Russ Rose, the Penn State coach. He said a lot of other things, too, at the postmatch press conference ... things like how the Wahine are a great team that plays with a lot of heart.

It was no surprise that the much taller Nittany Lions won the battle up front, but the absolute superiority was still hard to believe.

15-0.

You can't win on the wrong end of that stat, even if you have the best liberos in the world digging everything up. As the Wahine players conceded afterward, it takes a lot more energy to chase balls around all over the court than to knock them down at the net. Digging a ball is just part of it; then you need a set and a kill. Blocks are points, money in the bank. Digs are just part of an equation, a block is an emphatic answer.

Rose said the Wahine could have won because of their excellent serve and pass game. But after the first set, Penn State matched Hawaii in the finesse phases, while the blocking negated the Wahine attack.

“;I think that it started with the blocking,”; said Penn State setter Alisha Glass, who was in on three. “;We made adjustments and the defense kind of fell into place.”;

As UH tired, Penn State began to win more of the rallies.

“;We knew that they would be really scrappy defensively,”; Glass added.

So when the Lions saw they could play Hawaii's game, too, it was over.

“;The digs, great digs and long rallies really kind of inspire a team and I think that we fed off that energy and played better because of it,”; Glass said.

It's what Hawaii did in the first set.

But later, UH became the team scurrying around, scrambling just to get the ball over the net, with no semblance of an attack.

Some coaches tell me blocking is overrated; others say it's underrated. Rose says you need a balance.

Some people say Hawaii is behind the times and won't win another national championship because Shoji never has enough big players.

Well, that won't be true in the coming seasons. Hawaii has a lot of young, tall players returning next year. Brittany Hewitt and Alexis Forsythe—middles who are 6-3 and 6-4—should be ready to make bigger impacts, as well as 6-3 outside Corinne Cascioppo. Incoming freshman Michelle Waber is 6-3 and has the potential to compete for immediate PT.

“;We'll be bigger. ... It won't be as fast or as quick, but we'll be bigger, that's for sure. Maybe that's the key, I don't know,”; Shoji said. “;We did pretty well with this small lineup, so we just have to re-gear with who we have and we'll see.”;

Yes, Amber Kaufman and Aneli Cubi-Otineru will be hard to replace.

But if winning at the final four is a tall order, at least UH has the raw material to work with.

Reach Star-Bulletin sports columnist Dave Reardon at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).