Hawaii's Kim Willoughby and Maja Gustin celebrated after the Wahine won the Western Athletic Conference championship yesterday in Reno, Nev. Hawaii won in four games.

Wahine win WAC

Hawaii is pushed to 4 games,
but earns a spot in the NCAAs

All tournament

By Grace Wen

RENO, Nev. >> Ask and you shall receive.

Starved for challenges during the regular Western Athletic Conference season, No. 2 Hawaii pleaded with conference teams to play at a higher level after a 3-0 sweep by Stanford exposed a crucial inability to perform during crunch time.

The Rainbow Wahine got the best games of the season from San Jose State and Nevada on successive days and found out that they can respond to pressure when matches get competitive.

With the chants of "Let's go 'Bows" ringing in their ears from start to finish, Hawaii defeated Nevada 30-19, 30-32, 30-13, 30-23 yesterday. Before an afternoon crowd of 1,026 at Virginia Street Gym, the Wahine celebrated their fifth conference championship and gained the WAC's automatic NCAA tournament berth.

"We've been challenged, which is a good thing for our team," Hawaii coach Dave Shoji said. "San Jose challenged us (Saturday) night, Nevada certainly challenged us today. We needed to see somebody putting pressure on us."

Last year when the Wahine had one All-American and less-experienced players at all positions, they breezed through the tournament. This year with a huge advantage in just about every aspect of the game -- talent, size and experience -- Hawaii didn't have nearly as easy a time, and they weren't distracted by a crowd rooting against them. Home-court advantage was basically a non-issue, as Nevada coach Devin Scruggs estimated that the crowd was 50-50.

The Rainbow Wahine had lapses in concentration and the Wolf Pack took advantage of that. The first-time WAC finalists made up for poor showings earlier this year with their best outing against the Wahine.

"We definitely came out to compete today. I was pleased with the way we performed," Scruggs said. "We certainly would have liked a win, but anytime you can take a game off of Hawaii and compete in three of four games is good."

Though their passing was erratic for the second match in a row, the Rainbow Wahine won with surprising balance in their offense. Part of it was setters Jennifer Carey and Margaret Vakasausau didn't go with the tried and true all the time.

Even with passes off the net, both setters set quick attacks and ran slides that allowed Hawaii's middles to take advantage of height mismatches in Nevada' block.

"The setters were a little more daring with the more difficult sets," Shoji said. "And they should have always been when they had the small blocker over there."

Four players finished in double-digits, with tournament MVP Kim Willoughby smacking 26 kills, including one that she tipped off Nevada setter Jill Couwenhoven's forehead.

Junior Lauren Duggins drilled 15 kills in 19 swings with no errors for another dazzling performance against the Wolf Pack.

"Jen and I connected well," Duggins said. "Sometimes they leave early for Kim and Lily (Kahumoku)."

Kahumoku pounded 19 kills to go with 13 digs for her 13th double-double of the season. Middle blocker Maja Gustin was solid again, hitting .400 with 12 kills. The junior has played best since recovering from her foot injury. Hawaii outhit Nevada in all but one game and was more than 200 points higher in overall hitting percentage (.372-.167).

Outside hitter Laura Wooley, fully recovered from a shoulder injury in the middle of the season, led Nevada's attack with 15 kills. Freshman middle Salaia Salavea added 13 kills, while the Wolf Pack got 12 kills from senior Michelle More.

In Game 1, Hawaii had a 6-0 lead and did too much damage early for Nevada to recover. The Wolf Pack steadied out the rest of the game, but the gap with the Wahine had already grown too great.

The Wolf Pack bounced back in Game 2 and started off strong. Hawaii erased Nevada's 7-4 lead to tie the game at 9. But the Wolf Pack pushed their lead to 16-12 with four kills, two blocks by More and a Wahine service error.

Back-to-back aces by Gustin brought Hawaii ahead at 24-21, but there would be four more ties, the last at 30-30. Sophomore Karen Adams subbed in for Couwenhoven and put the timely clamp on Willoughby for a 31-30 advantage. The game ended on the next play when Willoughby hit into the antenna.

After a media timeout in Game 3, Hawaii moved way ahead with eight straight points that brought the score to 23-11. The Wolf Pack got stuck in certain rotations and couldn't sideout. A kill by Gustin started another five-point run that sealed the game for Hawaii.

"The first two times we played them this year, we haven't done what we wanted to do," Couwenhoven said. "During WAC season play, we just wanted to fight and compete and I don't feel like we competed at all.

"To come out and compete today was a really good feeling. We should be happy about that. Once you get up with them, that's physical. Staying up there with them is mental. We haven't been challenged that much mentally."

Nor had the Wahine until this weekend.

Hawaii travels to Utah today for two nonconference matches. The Wahine face former WAC rival Brigham Young tomorrow at 4 p.m. and Utah on Wednesday.


All tournament


>> Kim Willoughby, Hawaii
>> Whitney Arena, Fresno St.
>> Jennifer Carey, Hawaii
>> Jill Couwenhoven, Nevada
>> *Lauren Duggins, Hawaii
>> Kristen Fenton, Fresno St.
>> Carrie Harrtt, Fresno St.
>> Lily Kahumoku, Hawaii
>> Rebecca Pazo, Rice
>> Lindsey Rule, San Jose St.
>> Salaia Salavea, Nevada
>> *Willoughby
>> Laura Wooley, Nevada

*2001 tournament team

Hawaii def. Nevada

30-19, 30-32, 30-13, 30-23

Wahine (28-1) g k e att pct. bs ba d

Willoughby 4 26 9 51 .333 0 1 5

Carey 4 3 0 5 .600 0 3 2

Ilustre 4 0 1 1 -1.000 0 0 12

Kahumoku 4 19 6 43 .302 0 1 13

Gustin 4 12 4 20 .400 1 5 2

Duggins 4 15 0 19 .789 1 6 4

Vakasausau 4 0 0 0 .000 0 0 13

Boogaard 1 0 0 0 .000 0 0 0

Tano 4 2 2 9 .000 0 6 5

Eckmier 1 0 0 0 .000 1 0 0

Villaroman 4 0 0 0 .000 0 0 9

Totals 4 77 22 148 .372 3 22 65

Wolfpack (21-8) g k e att pct. bs ba d

Wooley 4 15 6 35 .257 1 0 6

Salavea 4 13 4 28 .321 0 4 2

Couwenhoven 4 2 0 8 .250 0 0 3

Harms 4 8 7 34 .029 0 1 12

Holda 4 0 0 0 .000 0 0 2

More 4 12 6 39 .154 1 3 5

Baracco 4 0 0 0 .000 0 0 11

Burton 4 5 6 15 -.067 0 2 0

Adams 3 1 0 3 .333 0 4 1

Totals 4 56 29 162 .167 2 14 42

Key -- g: games; k: kills; e: hitting errors; att: attempts; pct.: hitting percentage; bs: block solos; ba: block assists; d: digs.
Aces -- Hawaii (6): Willoughby, Kahumoku, Gustin. Nevada (2): Wooley, More. Assists -- Hawaii (69): Carey 39, Vakasausau 24, Tano 3, Ilustre, Kahumoku, Villaroman. Nevada (53): Couwenhoven 49, Harms, Holda, Baracco, Adams.
T -- 2:01. Officials -- Margie Ray, Kent Kitade. A -- 1,026.

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