Wahine staying
home for regional

UH could play its first
four tourney matches
at Stan Sheriff Center

About the time their luggage caught up with the Hawaii volleyball players yesterday, the Rainbow Wahine discovered they wouldn't be needing their bags for a while.

No. 2 Hawaii got what it had hoped for all season -- to be home for the first rounds of the NCAA Tournament. It was the last bracket to be announced on yesterday's selection show, but it was well worth the wait for the Wahine (32-1), who will face Idaho (19-10) in Thursday's second match at the Stan Sheriff Center.

NCAA Tournament

Where: Stan Sheriff Center

When: Thursday-Friday.

Thursday: BYU (22-8) vs. New Mexico State (30-4), 5 p.m.; No. 2 Hawaii (32-1) vs. Idaho, 19-10), 7 p.m.

Friday: Thursday's winners, 7 p.m.

Radio: Hawaii matches live, KKEA 1420-AM.

TV: Stations still negotiating for rights.

Tickets: Two-day packages, $22 (lower level), $16 (lower level). On sale at 8 a.m. tomorrow at Stan Sheriff Center box office; at 9 a.m. tomorrow at 944-BOWS, Aloha Stadium box office, UH Campus Center, Rainbowtique at Ward Centre and Windward Community College OCET office. Individual match tickets, $9-12, on sale Thursday.

Season-ticket holders who pre-purchased NCAA tickets can pick them up today beginning at noon at the Sheriff Center.

The opening match of the first round pits former Western Athletic Conference foe Brigham Young (23-8) and future WAC member New Mexico State (30-4) at 5 p.m. Thursday's winners meet at 7 p.m. Friday, with that winner advancing to the regional next week at the Sheriff Center.

The Wahine returned home Saturday after 10 days on the road in Nevada. Most of the luggage didn't make the flight from San Francisco, with some of it being returned while Hawaii watched the selection show at Eastside Grill.

"It would have been really bad if we had to go on the road again," said Wahine senior hitter Nohea Tano. "I can't imagine picking up and leaving again, especially with school and everything."

"I'm definitely excited that we're home," said senior hitter Kim Willoughby. "I wasn't prepared to be on the road again."

The Sheriff Center is one of four predetermined regional sites, with two of the top four seeds looking at the real possibility of being home next week: No. 2 Hawaii and No. 3 Florida. Top-seeded and defending champion Southern California will be home for the first two rounds but will have to travel to Nebraska for the regional; No. 4 seed Pepperdine is also home this week but would travel to Long Beach State for the regional.

"I think SC going to Nebraska is interesting and a little strange," said senior hitter Lily Kahumoku. "Out of all the teams, SC probably deserves to play at home.

"But all I know is it would have been awful for us to leave again. I don't know if I would have passed my classes. The thought (of traveling this week) has been bothering me and this is a huge relief."

Wahine coach Dave Shoji was more relieved when seeing who wasn't in his bracket. No. 8 seed UCLA is in the same bracket as USC, as is dangerous Arizona. No. 5 seed Stanford is in Pepperdine's bracket.

Hawaii went five with UCLA, Stanford and Arizona this season "in matches that could have gone either way," said Shoji. "Obviously, those three teams are familiar with us having played here and our home-court advantage would have disappeared. I'm relieved that we don't have to go through them to get to the final four.

"As for the rest of our bracket, I've heard that Georgia Tech (the seventh seed) is legitimate and (No. 10) Cal's record speaks for itself. Either of those teams will be a very good opponent if we can all get there (to the regional)."

Hawaii's chances are good. The Wahine appear to be neither in the toughest bracket (SC's) nor in the weakest (Florida's).

Should Hawaii advance to the final four in Dallas, the Wahine would face the winner of the Florida regional.

"I think Florida has the weakest bracket, but there aren't any real weak teams," said Shoji. "It's all relative. I'm just disappointed that Fresno (State) and SMU didn't get in.

"There are too many (West Coast Conference) and Big West teams in. The WCC got six teams in and I don't see any of them having big wins. And Nevada beat Pacific and Fresno beat Northridge."

Besides Pepperdine, the WCC has Loyola Marymount, St. Mary's, San Diego, San Francisco and Santa Clara in the tournament. The Big West also got six teams in: Idaho, Long Beach State, UC Irvine, UC Santa Barbara, Pacific, Cal State Northridge.

Idaho has won its last six matches, including wins over UC Santa Barbara and Pacific. Still, the Vandals tied for fifth in the conference with a 10-8 record.

"We don't know anything about them except they have good wins in their conference," said Shoji. "We'll get on the phone and get some tape."

Shoji said when he saw the way the pairings were going, with teams traveling across country, "I felt pretty good about us staying home."

"They were sending people a long way for the first and second round, like New Hampshire going to SC," he said. "I thought they'd cluster teams more regionally.

"At this point, it doesn't matter. You play who you play. For us, everything has gone according to the way we talked about it going, the way we had planned for it to go. Our team won't overlook Idaho and will go and play hard."

Staying at home was as much a relief as it was excitement for the team yesterday. Players felt the committee finally respected what the Wahine had done.

Two years ago, using 9/11 as one reason, Hawaii was sent to Pullman, Wash., for a first-round matchup with host Washington State. The Wahine then traveled to Long Beach for the regional, losing to UCLA.

Last season, Hawaii was also ranked second in the poll but seeded sixth in the tournament. The Wahine were 30-1 at the end of the regular season; they had to travel to Nebraska for the regional, eventually beating the host Cornhuskers for their final four berth.

"I think we've been slighted the past two years," said Kahumoku. "After we beat Nebraska last year, I think the committee said, 'Hey, this team is legitimate. They are a No. 2 seed."

"Maybe the committee did give us more credit than they did last year," said Shoji. "Our schedule and record are pretty much the same as last year.

"And Nebraska is not the same team as last year. They have a tough road to get home for the regional and it may end up being a neutral court for SC."

USC (29-0) is one of six Pac-10 teams in the tournament, none of which are in Florida's region. The others are UCLA, Stanford, Cal, Washington and Arizona.


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