[ WAHINE VOLLEYBALL ]
UH faces depleted UTEP
It's homecoming at Texas-El Paso today. Scott Swanson even got a haircut, anticipating another record crowd to come watch his women's volleyball team take on No. 2 Hawaii in a Western Athletic Conference match.
Swanson knew his Miners had little chance of upsetting the Rainbow Wahine prior to the start of this season. Eight weeks later, he would lay money on it.
WAC women's volleyball
Who: No. 2 Hawaii (16-1, 4-0) at UTEP (5-14, 0-5)
When: Today, 9 a.m. Hawaii time
Radio: Live, KKEA 1420-AM
UTEP (5-14, 0-5) is down to eight relatively healthy players, three of whom cannot set a ball with any efficiency due to finger or wrist problems.
"That pretty much limits our options," Swanson said in a telephone interview yesterday. "What we have is what we have. There is no one to bring in off the bench.
"My greatest fear is that we get intimidated. We have some very young, very inexperienced players in important positions. I just want them to compete as hard as they can, make it exciting for our fans. Even without Kim (UH senior All-American Willoughby), we're still talking All-Americans against girls who weren't recruited by anyone except us."
Such is the life of a coach building a program. Swanson, in his second year, knows he's at a disadvantage against a traditional power such as Hawaii, despite the Wahine (16-1, 4-0) not bringing Willoughby (strep throat) on the road trip.
"What I'm telling our kids is that this is a great opportunity to play a great team," Swanson said. "Hawaii was No. 1 when they played here last year and we had a record crowd (1,325). This time they're No. 2.
"I tell our kids that there's no pressure, no expectations for them to win. They just need to play hard and do their best. We are really struggling with injuries. Right now, it's more about what's happening on our side of the court than who we're playing."
Swanson expects to start a lineup with two freshmen -- including setter Krystal Gabriel -- two sophomores and two banged-up seniors. Senior hitter Jennifer Abbruzzese, although not fully recuperated from knee surgery, leads the WAC in double-doubles with 12.
Abbruzzese's string of five straight double-doubles ended Thursday when UTEP fell to San Jose State 30-27, 30-23, 30-20. The Miners out-blocked and out-dug the Spartans but gave up 10 service aces in losing their eighth straight WAC match, dating back to last season.
Swanson is already looking at next season. He has four commitments so far and is hoping to go 5-for-5 on recruits next week.
"I'm much happier about our talent for next year," he said. "No, it's not easy to recruit here, but it's getting better because of our new $11 million facility. It's the nicest in the WAC.
"The key is getting them to come check us out on a visit. When they get here, they love it."
Swanson said it's been a frustrating, disappointing season so far. Becoming competitive in the WAC "is still a ways away."
"I'm not very patient and I thought this would be a better year," said Swanson, whose team was 11-14 last season. "I know we can make it better than it has been. It's not realistic to say that we can ever win the WAC, but our goal is to consistently be in the top four or five."