Star-Bulletin Sports

Thursday, November 15, 2001



Wahine have
WAC bye today

Hawaii plays the Tulsa vs.
Boise State winner tomorrow

The teams
UH signs 2

By Grace Wen

After a two-year absence, the rebirth of the Western Athletic Conference women's volleyball tournament isn't exactly being greeted with a ton of enthusiasm.

When half the teams left the WAC to join the Mountain West Conference in 1998, WAC coaches didn't want to play a conference tournament after a full regular-season schedule.

But the split into division play and the expansion to 10 teams this year gave the tournament new life. The tournament won't be at a neutral site as in past years. San Jose State hosts the three-day tournament that starts today.

Hawaii, the No. 1 seed, left today and will arrive this evening in San Jose.

The Wahine have a bye and will play the winner of today's match between Tulsa and Boise State at 11 a.m. HST tomorrow.

"I have mixed feelings about this tournament," Hawaii coach Dave Shoji said. "We don't like to play a team three times in one season.

"Some teams could salvage something positive out of (the tournament). But it would only affect us in a negative way. We need to win out."

The last WAC tournament match was three years ago in Las Vegas. Hawaii's epic 3-hour, 38-minute battle with BYU for the title is still the longest match in NCAA history. No WAC match will be that long again, thanks to rally scoring.

Like the previous WAC tournament years, there's not much for the 11th-ranked Wahine to gain. A loss can be damaging to Hawaii's NCAA seeding. The recent regional rankings have Hawaii at No. 2, behind Long Beach State.

But winning out may not make much of a difference to the NCAA. Home-court advantage could still be wrested away from the Wahine, given the NCAA's recent memo concerning championships and travel safety. The NCAA will announce the 64-team bracket on Nov. 26.

Here's a look at the teams:


No. 1 Hawaii (23-4, 13-0)

Barring a major upset, the Wahine should take this tournament with relative ease. The Wahine have won 20 matches in a row, and their perfect conference record indicates that the tourney is theirs to lose.

San Jose State was the only team that came remotely close to handing UH a loss, but sophomore Kim Willoughby halted the Spartans almost single-handedly. Willoughby plays well in big matches and this tournament should be no different.

UH has a solid nucleus of supporting cast members, including four all-conference selections in Margaret Vakasausau, Maja Gustin, Hedder Ilustre and Lauren Duggins.

"We have to be confident going into the tournament," Shoji said. "But we better not be overconfident. We have to respect everybody."

No. 2 Nevada (16-6, 9-4)

The Wolf Pack are having a break-through year. In spite of what the conference coaches predicted in the preseason poll, Nevada finished second and ahead of San Jose State by a point.

Middle blockers Michelle More and Kellie LaBossiere aren't flashy, but they can be unstoppable. Nevada didn't lead the conference in many categories but the Wolf Pack do serve tough with 2.47 aces a game.

Assuming the Wolf Pack advances to the semifinals, they'll face the Spartans. The teams split earlier this season, with each team winning at home.

No. 3 San Jose State (20-6, 9-4)

Setter Savannah Smith suffered a sprained right ankle last week against the Wahine, but the senior played two days later against Boise State.

San Jose State coach Craig Choate says Smith won't be 100 percent, but even without her, the Spartans are still trying to regroup after a midseason slump. They haven't lost many matches, but their play hasn't been awe inspiring, either.

"The last few matches we haven't been playing as well as we'd like," Choate said. "It's not a great time for us to be going downhill. We're not playing so well on the court.

"We tend to have people who have one or two of the six volleyball skills. And for us to be good on a given night, everybody has to be clicking on their skills. If they're not, we're in trouble."

The team will have to be running on all cylinders to win the tournament. The Spartans are tough at home, with just a lone conference loss to Hawaii. Choate has three solid attackers in Brianna Blair, Kimberly Noble and Stephanie Pascucci.

No. 4 Rice (16-7, 10-3)

After losing three of its first four conference matches, Rice rebounded against East Division opponents with a vengeance. The Owls are the highest-seeded East team and have won nine straight, including a nonconference win against Arkansas.

The tandem of Brianna Cook and Courtney Smith was the major reason Rice topped the conference in blocking. Cook was fourth in the conference with 1.28 blocks, while Smith was fifth at 1.24. Freshman Rebeca Pazo led the team in kills at 4.32 and was the conference rookie of the year.

No. 5 Fresno State (13-9, 7-6)

The Bulldogs finished behind San Jose State in the West Division standings but looked like a more steady team. Despite having a young squad (Shauna McQuaid is the only senior), they don't intimidate easily and they back up their bark with a fair amount of bite.

Freshman setter Whitney Arena has come of age and spreads the offense well to McQuaid and outside hitters Christy Burnett and Kara Verwey.

McQuaid and Java Johnson led the conference in blocking and were part of the reason Willoughby didn't register many kills last Friday.

Fresno State isn't looking past Rice, but the Bulldogs are anticipating a competitive match with the Wahine in the semifinal.

"If we do the kinds of things that we need to and continue to work hard on every play, then at least we're in a position where we could get a win," Fresno State coach Lindy Vivas said.

No. 6 SMU (14-10, 8-5)

The Mustangs have proved capable of big upsets and none was bigger than their home win over San Jose State in early October.

SMU won six straight before falling to Rice in five games last week. They should be a handful for San Jose State, but the Spartans won't lose at home. Setter Tara Hatfield led the WAC in assists with 12.89 a game.

No. 7 UTEP (9-13, 5-8)

Tabbed to win the East Division, the Miners didn't live up to expectations, losing twice to Rice and SMU. Senior setter Krista Gronert was out for the season after suffering a broken ankle on Oct. 18.

UTEP only had one hitter ranked in the conference in hitting (Jennifer Abbruzzese, 3.90 kills per game), but the Miners were second to Hawaii in kills at 16.10.

No. 8 Tulsa (8-14, 3-10)

The Golden Hurricane have only beaten cellar dwellers Boise State and Louisiana Tech. A win against Boise State would mean a quarterfinal matchup with Hawaii.

No. 9 Boise State (1-22, 1-12)

With only one win this season, the Broncos should already be looking ahead to next year when most of their young starters return. As one of two newcomers in the WAC, Boise State struggled mightily and only mustered a win against fellow conference newcomer Louisiana Tech.

No. 10 Louisiana Tech (8-19, 0-13)

Louisiana Tech will probably make a quick exit after its cross-country flight. The Bulldogs have more overall wins than Boise State, but they lost every conference match.


UH signs 2

The No. 11-ranked Hawaii Wahine volleyball team signed Cayley Thurlby and Susie Boogaard yesterday to letters of intent on the first day of the early recruiting period.

Thurlby is a 5-foot-11 setter from Naperville, Ill., who was tabbed an All-American at the 2000 AAU national championships. She has won several awards in Illinois this season, including being named Chicago Sun-Times All-Area.

"Cayley comes from one of the best junior programs in the country," Wahine head coach Dave Shoji said. "She should be very refined in her skills and is a very athletic player who we look forward to having here."

Boogaard is a 6-2 right-side hitter from Bellflower, Calif., and was named MVP of the Olympic League this season. She was all-league all four years of high school and was named All-CIF during her first three seasons. Her Valley Christian High School volleyball team fell in the CIF quarterfinals this year.

"Susie is a terminator-type player with great ability," Shoji said. "She's played all three positions in the front row and hits the ball really hard. Boogaard could come in here and contribute immediately."

WAC Tournament

At San Jose (All times HST)


Match 1: Tulsa vs. Boise State, 4 p.m.
Match 2: UTEP vs. Louisiana Tech, 6 p.m.


Match 3: Hawaii vs. Winner, Match 1, 11 a.m.
Match 4: Rice vs. Fresno State, 1 p.m.
Match 5: San Jose State vs. SMU, 4:30 p.m.
Match 6: Nevada vs. Winner, Match 2, 6:30 p.m.


Match 7: Winner, Match 3 vs. Winner, Match 4, 3 p.m.
Match 8: Winner, Match 5 vs. Winner, Match 6, 5 p.m.


Match 9: Winner, Match 7 vs. Winner, Match 8, 11 a.m.

UH Athletics

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