Thursday, August 23, 2001
[ HPU VOLLEYBALL]
Beyond PerfectionONCE you attain it, just how do you top perfection?
Hawaii Pacific volleyball head
coach Tita Ahuna doesn't know how
she can top a perfect season
By Brandon Lee
In sports, as in most things, one really can only hope to repeat a flawless performance -- and even then this desire goes unfilled more often than not.
Yet the quest to repeat, or at the very least follow perfection, is exactly the task facing this year's Hawaii Pacific University women's volleyball team. A year after blitzing every competitor in their path en route to the national championship and the first undefeated record (28-0) in the 20-year history of NCAA Division II volleyball, the Sea Warriors are asking themselves what they can possibly do for an encore.
"How can you go from 28-0 to anything?" said HPU's sixth-year coach Tita Ahuna, who also led the team to the Division II title in 1998. "How can you compare? I don't know that we can. All we can do is take one game at a time and that really has to be our philosophy."
Ahuna preached the same philosophy last season, but said she did so with a different mindset.
"Last year, it was our philosophy, but we at least saw the light at the end of the tunnel. This year, we only see black right now."
The biggest reason for the darkness has been the departure of three members from the Sea Warriors' talented quartet of Brazilian hitters, each of whom could be the "go-to" player.
Completing their eligibility were first-team All-American Debbie Sant'Anna and All-National Championship Tournament Team member Flavia Gabinio, both outside hitters. Also sitting out this year for personal reasons is Susy Garbelotti, the force in the middle who earned first-team All-America honors among the two handfuls of other awards she took home last season as only a sophomore.
Still, despite these key losses, HPU opens its season at 7:30 p.m. Monday with a nonconference home matchup against St. Martin's (Wash.) College as the No. 4 team in the American Volleyball Coaches Association Division II preseason top 25.
Important holdovers include two-time first-team All-American and school career assists leader Nia Tuitele, and the lone remaining Brazilian, PacWest Pacific Division second team member, Roberta Robert.
Ahuna admitted that she did not have the success she's accustomed to recruiting this past offseason, but she still has three scholarship players and two walk-ons on the tentative roster.
"Athletically and talent-wise, it's hard to fill the void of a Sant'Anna or Gabinio," Ahuna said. "All the returnees need to step it up, especially Nia, and she's accepted it and is ready for it."
The Sea Warriors actually received more than double (13) the first-place votes of any other team, yet still finished only in the fourth spot. And don't let all of Ahuna's talk of topping perfection fool you -- she isn't happy about it.
"How can you have 13 first-place votes and be (ranked) fourth in the nation?" Ahuna said. "It has to mean we were left completely off of some people's ballots, and I really can't understand that. But I like when people think we cannot do something; it provides motivation to step up and do it."
West Texas A&M (five first-place votes) is ranked No. 1, while North Alabama (six) and Augustan, S.D. (three) round out the top three.
The Hawaiian Style Classic Tournament hosted by Hawaii-Hilo follows the game against St. Martin's for HPU, August 30-September 1. The Sea Warriors open play in the newly configured six-team PacWest (Brigham Young-Hawaii, Chaminade, Hawaii-Hilo, Montana State-Billings and Western New Mexico) with Hawaii-Hilo, Sept. 7.
Now, here's a brief look at the three other local PacWest teams:
Brigham Young-HawaiiBrigham Young-Hawaii, at No. 17, is the only other team from the PacWest to crack the Top 25. The 1999 Div. II national champion Seasiders also experienced major turnover from last season's team (17-6, 12-2), with only middle blocker Ashley Moeai (5-11, So.) and defensive specialist Nicole Olmstead (5-9, Sr.) returning this year.
Entering his 17th season at the helm, BYUH coach Wilfred Navalta will rely heavily on Moeai and Olmstead, as well as defensive specialist/outside hitter Leiau Meatoga (5-5, Jr.), who returns to the Seasiders after a one-year hiatus.
"We're rebuilding and trying to form a good foundation for the future," Navalta said. "We're not really weak anywhere, and we're not really strong anywhere, but I think we'll be competitive. I think any team in Hawaii is capable of beating any other this year."
Five freshmen are on BYUH's 11-woman roster, including Kaala Lo (5-5) from Mililani High, who gets the nod as starting setter. Two other newcomers to watch are Chinese imports Xu Don (5-11, So.) and Li Na (5-10, Jr.). Navalta said that both are important parts of this year's nucleus, with Xu likely to see the most playing time at outside hitter, while Li will fill in as a role player.
The Seasiders open their season at home with St. Martin's next Tuesday, then visit Hilo for the Hawaiian Style Classic. Their first PacWest game is at Montana St.-Billings, September 11.
ChaminadeAfter what eighth-year coach Glennie Adams characterized as "a dismal year" last season (6-17, 5-9) she and Chaminade are looking to turn the program around 180 degrees "and then some."
"I think everybody can compete for a title this year, and I like my chances as well as any coach's," Adams said. "I give the nod to HPU and BYUH, but we're right there, especially with rally scoring this year. We've traditionally been a strong sideout team."
Adams is particularly confident because the Silverswords have a true setter this season in freshman Janeen Waialae (5-8) out of University High School. Though Adams said Waialae still has much to learn, she will start and dish the ball to big hitters Audrey Brady (6-0, Jr.) and Jessica Robins (5-8, Sr.) in the middle, and Valasi Sepulona (5-8, Fr.) on the outside.
Chaminade begins its season on the road at San Francisco State next Wednesday, then will play in the UC Stanislaus Tournament, Aug. 31-Sept. 1. The Silverswords begin PacWest play by hosting Brigham Young-Hawaii, September 21.
Hawaii-HiloA season ago (8-15, 3-11), Hawaii-Hilo coach Sharon Peterson endured the bumps and bruises of her youngest starting squad ever. Now entering her 24th season at the Vulcans' helm, Peterson is counting on that trial-by-fire experience paying off for her and her "veterans."
"They're still young, but they've worked very hard," Peterson said. "If they play freely, then we'll be a much better team than last season."
Last year's starting six were freshmen Megan Denman (5-8, setter), Sara Pilgreen (5-10, outside hitter) and Emily Hutchinson (6-0, blocker), sophomores Ann Haggerty (5-11, right-side hitter) and Cheriesse Shiroma (5-8, middle blocker), and junior Marnie Grant. Three other freshmen also saw major minutes off the bench. The entire group is back except for Grant.
Hawaii-Hilo starts the season Wednesday at home against St. Martin's, then begins as host for the three-day Hawaiian Style Classic the following day. The Vulcans' first PacWest matchup comes September 7 at Hawaii Pacific.