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Star-Bulletin Sports

Monday, November 27, 2000

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


Hawaii home
for NCAA opener

The Wahine host
Davidson Thursday in
volleyball tourney play

Kahumoku WAC Player of the Year

By Pat Bigold

If the Western Athletic Conference schedule was a sleeping pill, the University of Hawaii Wahine volleyball team gulped down a strong cup of black coffee in Long Beach on Saturday.

Now, with their longest win streak since 1995 over, the Wahine (27-1) have to hope the caffeine has kicked in enough to help them start a new streak.

Six straight wins in the 20th NCAA Women's Volleyball Tournament will give the Wahine program its first national title in 13 years.

But the road ahead is steep.

Hawaii will host Davidson (24-11) in a NCAA first-round match Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Stan Sheriff Center. If the Wahine beat Davidson, they will face the winner of Thursday's 5 p.m. match between Texas Tech (24-12) and Utah (22-7) on Friday.

Making their first- and possibly second-round hurdles even more of a challenge is the distinct possibility that Hawaii will once again be without standout freshman middle blocker Maja Gustin.

The NCAA's No. 5 blocker and Hawaii's best percentage hitter, Gustin has a grade 2 sprain of her right ankle. She missed Long Beach State's 15-13, 15-8, 13-15, 15-10 upset of the Wahine.

The Wahine were seeded first in the West Region - second overall - in the 64-team NCAA tournament yesterday. Should they win this week, the Wahine may host the four-team regional next week.

"It's very, very tough but I knew that was going to happen," said Hawaii head coach Dave Shoji. "There's no easy way to the Final Four. We've got our work cut out for us."

Teams winning first and second round matches will move on to regional play Dec. 7-10 at four campus locations yet to be determined.

Hawaii has bid to host regionals on Dec. 7 and Dec. 8.

"If we can start our best players at home, I think we turn the tables," said Shoji. "...The winner of the Texas-Utah match will be a good team like Texas A&M was last year."

Texas A&M knocked Hawaii out of last year's tournament.

"Maja is walking better," said Shoji. "It's (ankle) not as painful and the swelling has gone down. There's a lot of bruising."

Gustin left the Long Beach Airport Holiday Inn yesterday wearing a plastic support on her lower right leg.

This is the 19th year the Wahine have qualified for the NCAA tournament and the eighth straight.

Hawaii won NCAA titles in 1982, 1983 and 1987. The Wahine were runners-up in 1988 and 1996.

Nebraska (28-0), No. 1 in the AVCA/USA Today poll all season, earned top seeding in the Central region. USC (25-2) is top seed in the Pacific and Wisconsin (20-3) leads the Mideast.

First and second-round matches will be played at 16 campus sites.

Automatic qualification went to 31 conferences. The remaining 33 slots were filled with at-large selections.

The Big Ten, Big 12, and Pac-10 conferences each have six teams in the field, followed by the Big West with five and Conference USA with four.

Five teams are new to the tournament: Alabama A&M, Georgia State, Missouri, Texas-San Antonio and Utah State.

Regional winners in the 64-team tournament will meet for the Final Four at Virginia Commonwealth Dec. 14-16.

Gustin sprained her right ankle in the fourth game of Hawaii's 3-1 win over Cal Poly on Friday.

The Wahine found out just how vital a cog Gustin has been to Hawaii's success when they played the No. 16 49ers. Long Beach State outblocked Hawaii (No. 8 blocking team in the NCAA), 19-8.5, and held the Wahine to a season-low .161 hitting percentage.

"We knew how it felt to win and now we know how it feels to lose," said freshman outside hitter Kim Willoughby. "I don't think we want to feel like that anymore. This should make us want to go out there and play harder."

The problems Hawaii encountered in two matches at the Long Beach State Invitational over the weekend might be due to the softness of the WAC schedule. The Wahine were not seriously challenged in any of the 16 conference matches,

"It (WAC) gives you a false sense of security," said Shoji.

TICKETS: Tickets for the NCAA tournament first and second rounds will be on sale tomorrow at the Stan Sheriff Center. Season ticket holders who bought the option for those matches can pick up their tickets today.

Hawaii has bid to host the regionals Dec. 7 and Dec. 8. If the bid is accepted, regional tickets will go on sale Dec. 5.

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Kahumoku honored

University of Hawaii sophomore outside hitter Lily Kahumoku today was named Player of the Year in volleyball by the Western Athletic Conference.

Hawaii, the undefeated WAC champion, placed four players on the first team and shared in the two other top honors. Wahine middle blocker Maja Gustin and outside hitter Kim Willoughby were named Co-Freshmen of the Year while Wahine coach Dave Shoji shared Coach of the Year honors with UTEP's Revis Ward-Daggett.

It was the fifth straight year that a Wahine earned Player of the Year honors. Kahumoku, last season's WAC Freshman of the Year and a first-team pick, ranks second in the conference in kills (4.54 kpg) and third in hitting percentage (.367).

Also selected to the first team from Hawaii were senior hitter Jessica Sudduth, junior blocker Veronica Lima and Gustin.

Willoughby and Hawaii sophomore setter Jennifer Carey were named to the second team.

UH Athletics

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