Star-Bulletin Sports

Tuesday, December 14, 1999

W A H I N E _ V O L L E Y B A L L

By George F. Lee, Star-Bulletin
Jessica Sudduth will be one of three seniors
on next year's Wahine roster.

Wahine still
wonder what
might have been

The UH women's volleyball team
must replace 40 percent of its offense
and 50 percent of its block next season

By Cindy Luis


This was not the game plan.

Preparing for finals instead of the final four.

Playing the role of gracious hosts instead of playing on the home court.

Having to look to the next century for the next championship instead of hanging a banner from this decade to go with ones from the '70s and '80s.

The Hawaii women's volleyball team had hoped to become the first team to win the NCAA title at home since UCLA did it in 1991. Instead, this week the Wahine will be watching from the Stan Sheriff Center stands and coach Dave Shoji will be able to concentrate on winning his own invitational golf tournament Friday.

When the Wahine failed to make this week's final four field, it put a damper on a successful 29-2 season. Hawaii drew 100,000-plus fans for the fifth straight season, Shoji earned his 700th career victory and Hawaii won its 100th match at the Sheriff Center.

But it will be Shoji's 137th career loss and the Wahine's 10th defeat at home that will stay in the collective memory of the team and fans.

Had Hawaii been able to defeat Texas A&M last week, would the Wahine have defeated Long Beach State Friday?

"You can't play those 'What if' games,'' said Shoji. "I think we could have. I think we would have. But you can't do that.

"Obviously A&M played great, probably could have beaten anyone that night. And we didn't play as well as we are capable.''

On Sunday, the Wahine held a final team meeting, letting go of the past and addressing the future. Hawaii's four departing seniors -- Heather Bown, Heidi Ilustre, Jennifer Roberts and Shelly Kim -- take with them 40 percent of the offense and 50 percent of the most potent block in the country this season.

The biggest portion of the statistics belong to the 6-3 Bown, expected to pick up her second All-American honor this week. She led the country with a 2.25 block average and leaves as Hawaii's single-season leader in block average, third in kills, kills per game, block assists and total blocks.

Sophomore blocker Veronica Lima may decide to retire for non-volleyball reasons. She was second in dig average, blocks and aces, fourth in kills and hitting percentage.

"We were prepared to lose Heather and our other three seniors,'' said Shoji. "If Veronica leaves, we lose a great volleyball player but also a lot of leadership and court savvy.

"We're happy with the players we have verbal commitments from. We hope to add one, maybe two, other players. We're looking at another middle, a foreigner, and there are still some possibilities locally.''

Hawaii has verba; commitments from three top mainland high school players. Although players cannot sign until February, Shoji feels secure he will have 6-foot-3 middle Melody Eckmier (Simi Valley, Calif.), 6-foot middle Lauren Duggins (Fullerton, Calif.) and 5-11 hitter Kim Willoughby (Napoleonville, La.) in the fold next fall.

"I'm very excited for next year,'' said freshman setter Jennifer Carey. "We're going to be a young team but we're going to be good. We have 1-2 years to grow together.

"I know we're going to be competitive. It was a great season, 29-2 is pretty impressive, but the losses came at the wrong time. It hurts (that we lost) but we can work at making sure it doesn't happen again.''

"I think we have a lot of guns coming back,'' said Jessica Sudduth who, with Aven Lee and Andrea Gomez-Tukuafu, will comprise the 2000 senior class. "We're still going to big and, while we lose some great middles, we'll have experience at other areas.

"For us to continue to be successful next season, we need a good effort from our newcomers and have the returning players mature mentally. I know those of us coming back will work hard to get to the final four next year. Hopefully, we'll play as if losing is not an option.''

Tanja Nikolic is expected back for her junior year but likely will move from middle to outside. Also back as sophomores are WAC Freshman of the Year Lily Kahumoku and Margaret Vakasauasu, who was voted the team's most inspirational player.

"We're thinking about moving some players around,'' said Shoji. "Lily will likely stay on the left but Tanja may play right-side. Sudduth could also move to the right. It all depends on what we bring in.

"But the big thing I addressed with the team on Sunday was mental toughness. Basically, we need to be better at that.''

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