Tuesday, November 9, 1999
Sea Warriors head
The No. 1 and No. 2 Division IIBy Cindy Luis
women's volleyball teams are likely
to run into each other soon
There's nowhere to run, nowhere to hide when the Nos. 1 and 2 teams in NCAA Division II women's volleyball are in the same conference and, obviously, the same regional.
Top-ranked Brigham Young-Hawaii (23-1) and second-ranked Hawaii Pacific (23-2) are destined to continue running in to each other the next two weeks. It could be in Seattle Saturday if both get past their semifinal opponents in the Pacific West Conference Tournament.
It is likely to happen next week in Laie when BYU-Hawaii is expected to host the Far West Regional. The teams have met three times this season, each handing the other their only losses.
As happened last season, the two top teams in the country are from the islands. Only one will go on to the the NCAA national tournament, Dec. 2-4, in Battle Creek, Mich.
BYU-Hawaii coach Wilfred Navalta hopes history doesn't repeat itself. Last season, his top-ranked Seasiders were upset by Tita Ahuna's Sea Warriors in the regional final a week after his team defeated HPU for the PacWest title. HPU then went on to win the Division II championship.
"Actually, if it were up to me, we wouldn't have the conference tournament,'' said Navalta, whose team finished conference play 14-0. "I realize they have to have some way to determine the conference champion but the outcome likely won't change the regional seedings. We're already pegged to host the regional. I would prefer to have my players not miss school and we could use this week to prepare for regional play.''
Last year, the Seasiders hosted the conference tournament as the Pacific Division champion. This season, the host is Western Division winner Seattle Pacific.
BYU-Hawaii will open semifinal play on Friday against Alaska-Fairbanks (13-9, 10-4) at 3 p.m. HST. The Seasiders earlier defeated the host Nanooks, 15-8, 15-0, 15-2.
HPU, 12-2 in the PacWest, will then take on host Seattle Pacific (23-5, 13-4) in a rematch of last year's tournament semifinal. The Sea Warriors downed the Falcons in Seattle last month, 17-15, 15-9, 15-9.
"We're a good road team,'' said Ahuna. "I think our ladies are more focused when they don't have all the distractions of playing at home.
"We've already seen Seattle Pacific. They've got some good hitters in (Leilani) Kamahoahoa and (Monica) Abrahmson. We're not taking them lightly but, if we play up to our potential, I'm not worried about them. My feeling is the only team that can beat us is ourselves.''
Both the Seasiders and Sea Warriors are packing long winning streaks. BYU-Hawaii has won its last 13 and hasn't dropped a set in its last 12 outings; the only non-sweep came in a 3-1 victory over HPU on Sept. 26.
The Seasiders quickly disposed of Montana State-Billings last Friday, 15-7, 15-0, 15-3. Three-time All-American Arlete Silva hammered 15 kills and became the school's career kill leader (1,480).
The Sea Warriors haven't dropped a set in their last 12 matches, either. HPU's two losses to BYU-Hawaii was in a three-day span in late September.
"We have a renewed spirit since then,'' said Ahuna. "The team realized it had to buckle down.
"We had a great weekend last weekend (with quick wins over Western New Mexico and Montana State-Billings). We're hoping to use that momentum and the momentum of this weekend to go back to the nationals.''
Last season, Navalta declined to bid for the regional tournament. The top-seeded and No. 1-ranked Seasiders traveled to Bakersfield, Calif., where they ran into a hot HPU team in the final.
"I changed my mind about bidding to host this year,'' said Navalta. "There were less distractions by being on the road but then there was the distraction of HPU.''
Navalta has also changed his mind about hosting a national championship. BYU-Hawaii was the site of the NAIA national tournament in 1989 and 1990.
The Seasiders competed in both events but didn't make it past the quarterfinals. They then won back-to-back titles in 1991 and '92.
"The NAIA tournament had 20 teams and there was so much we were involved with,'' said Navalta. "The Division II tournament would only be eight teams. I think we deserve to host it and it would be good for our fans.''
Navalta said that having the home-court advantage next week wouldn't necessarily mean a cake-walk for his Seasiders. He feels that two other teams in the regional have a shot at winning: No. 10 Cal State Bakersfield and No. 20 Cal State Los Angeles.
"But I'm feeling good about our defense,'' said Navalta. "We've fiddled with our lineup in the last week and made our defense much stronger.''
Ahuna is feeling pretty good as well. "We're in the same situation as last year,'' she said. "Except last year we were virtually an unknown. We're not looking at ourselves as the defending national champions. That's in the past. We have a new wave to ride this season. Now's the time to catch it.''
The winners of Friday's semifinals meet Saturday for the championship. The third-place match is at 3 p.m. HST.