Monday, August 20, 2001
[ UH WAHINE VOLLEYBALL ]
WITH three starters returning from a final four season, most teams can usually anticipate a promising season.
Without the All-American, Shoji
may find the going tough, but the
Wahine will rely on quickness to
get back to the final four
By Grace Wen
But with this year's University of Hawaii Wahine volleyball team, it's difficult to predict anything except that the front line won't bear any resemblance to last year's towering trio.
Gone from the lineup are All-American Lily Kahumoku, Jessica Sudduth and Veronica Lima, three starters responsible for the bulk of last year's offense.
Sudduth graduated, while Lima opted to stay in Brazil and not return for her final season. But the absence that will affect the Wahine the most is Kahumoku, who is sitting out the season for "personal reasons."
Hawaii will be pressed to replace Kahumoku's 4.51 kills per game and the senior leadership of Sudduth. Without Kahumoku, UH head coach Dave Shoji has said that this year's squad won't overpower opponents as it has in previous years. Shoji knows his offense will have to move at a quicker tempo to beat opposing defenses.
And the players, especially the setters, are aware of it, too. "We're going to speed it up," setter Margaret Vakasausau said. "It's going to be dynamic. It's going to be a lot of quick-sets. A lower outside set. Everything is just going to be so quick. We have to, now that our one big gun is gone."
Instead of challenging the block, expect a more deceptive offense with more back slides, quick attacks and faster outside sets. To implement the offense, the Wahine will need solid and consistent passing. And they'll be looking for it from players who don't normally contribute to the passing game.
Tanja Nikolic, Kim Willoughby and Lauren Duggins haven't had much experience in major passing roles and will need to adjust quickly for UH.
Defensive specialists Hedder Ilustre and Melissa Villaroman, both of whom spent the summer with USA national team programs, will help out with passing and handle most of the defensive responsibilities.
"We're going to be a good defensive team, there's no question," Shoji said. "With Hedder and Melissa in the lineup a lot that part will be very, very good."
Despite replacing a group of 6-foot-2 blockers, the Wahine should still have a formidable block with 6-foot-3 redshirt freshman Melody Eckmier and 6-foot sophomore Lauren Duggins at the net.
The biggest question mark, however, is who will emerge as Hawaii's go-to hitter now with Kahumoku at home in Alabama and top recruit Jennifer Saleaumua, the nation's best high school player last year, not academically eligible.
It could be Gustin, the WAC Preseason Player of the year and last year's Co-Freshman of the year. Gustin averaged only 2.83 kills per game but will move from the middle to the right side.
She'll see a lot more sets but the 6-foot-3 sophomore hasn't proven that she can carry a major hitting load.
Or it could be the athletically gifted Co-Freshman of the year Kim Willoughby, who moves from the right side to the left.
Willoughby's leaping ability sets her apart from other hitters, but with more blockers keying on her she'll have a more challenging time putting the ball away.
Along with finding a terminating hitter, a relatively mixed squad -- experience wise -- will need to find new leadership.
They may look to Tanja Nikolic, the lone senior on the team, but vocal setters Vakasausau and Jennifer Carey could also step into that role.
And though the Wahine's chances of duplicating last year's final four performance have slimmed down without Kahumoku, none of the players are dwelling on losing her.
"A lot of people focus on Lily leaving, but it's no different from when Heather Bown or when Angelica (Ljungquist) left," Willoughby said.
"When Heather Bown left, no one thought that Lily was going to be the big go-to player and that we were going to make it to the final four. People need to realize that big hitters come and go. And we shouldn't be doubted because of that.
"Every hitter that we have could play in every single position. When you have a team like that, there's no hole."
Outside Hitters>> Tanja Nikolic (6-0), Kim Willoughby (6-0), Maja Gustin (6-3)
Nikolic and Willoughby get the starting nod on the outside, but the lineup could change depending on how either one handles increased hitting responsibilities. Willoughby started on the right side last year and thumped down 3.14 kills a game. Nikolic was the first player off the bench and averaged 1.5 kills per game and 1.4 digs.
Middle Blockers>> Melody Eckmier (6-3), Lauren Duggins (6-0), Maja Gustin (6-3), Nohea Tano (5-11)
Eckmier and Duggins are new to starting roles, but at least they won't be playing out of position. Duggins played in 31 games last year as a backup. Eckmier redshirted last season but was a prep standout before tearing her ACL her senior year.
Gustin could also shift back to the middle if needed and the same could be said of Tano, who was a middle blocker for Kamehameha Schools during its state championship season.
Setters>> Jennifer Carey (6-2), Margaret Vakasausau (5-8)
Shoji has penciled in Carey as the Wahine's starting setter, but expect a battle for the spot.
Junior Margaret Vakasausau has seen increased playing time every year and this one should be no different. Vakasausau quarterbacked the offense during exhibition play in Japan when Carey was recovering from foot surgery.
There is also a very real possibility that Vakasausau and Carey could split the setting duties. Shoji may opt to run an offense with two setters where Carey becomes a hitter in the front row and Vakasausau assumes the setting duties.
Right Side>> Maja Gustin (6-3), Nohea Tano (5-11)
Gustin puts up a towering block and will be an enormous presence on the court for the Wahine. Tano could break into the lineup but will probably be the first off the bench in any of the three front row spots.
Defensive Specialists>> Hedder Ilustre (5-7), Melissa Villaroman (5-6), Ashley Watanabe (5-6)
Hawaii's strength will be defense, with Villaroman and Ilustre as proven backrow players. Ilustre started two years at Cal State Northridge and earned 2000 Big Sky Conference defensive specialist of the year honors.
Villaroman played in all but one of the Wahine's 33 matches last year and tallied 1.24 digs a game.
Ka Leo O Hawaii