Kim Willoughby and the No. 2 Rainbow Wahine face No. 15 Illinois tomorrow.

Road to Dallas
gets tougher

Hawaii and three other top-15 teams
compete in the NCAA Regional
tomorrow at the Stan Sheriff Center

Two words for this week's NCAA Regional at the Stan Sheriff Center: great volleyball.

NCAA Regional

Where: Stan Sheriff Center
Tomorrow: No. 8 California (25-6) vs. No. 11 Georgia Tech (33-3), 5 p.m.; No. 2 Hawaii (34-1) vs. No. 15 Illinois (26-6), 7 p.m.
Saturday: Tomorrow's winners
Tickets: Some 2,600 still remain. Two-day packages at $20 (upper) and $26 (lower). Single tickets go on sale tomorrow for $11 (upper) and $14 (lower).
Radio: All UH matches live, KKEA 1420-AM
TV: Oceanic Cable 16, TBA

Two more words regarding the road to next week's final four in Dallas: very tough.

Led by host and No. 2-ranked Hawaii, this regional has four teams ranked in the top 15. Two have 33 wins -- Hawaii and Georgia Tech -- while Illinois has 26 and California 25. They have lost a combined 16 matches and none of them dropped a game during the first two rounds of the tournament.

Obviously, they all know how to win. Obviously, only one will be looking at a practice schedule next week in Reunion Arena.

And, perhaps obscured by a No. 2 ranking and 33-match win streak, obviously it's not a given that it will be the Rainbow Wahine getting on that plane bound for DFW.

"It's going to be a tougher regional than most people think," Hawaii coach Dave Shoji said. "We're not overlooking anyone. We're going to have to play really well to get out of here."

Being at home adds as much pressure as it alleviates. The Wahine can treat this as a normal week, keep the same practice routine, not have to worry about turning in homework via a hotel computer.

But there are expectations that this team will finally bring home the school's first women's volleyball banner since 1987. It's a heavy burden, even when playing in the Sheriff Center, where Hawaii went 20-1 this year.

Just ask the 1995 team, whose undefeated season ended in a stunning five-game loss to Michigan State in the regional final. Or the 1999 team, which needed to win two matches at home to stay at home for the final four; they were unceremoniously dumped in four by Texas A&M in the regional semifinal.

Two words for that? Not printable.

But here's a few about the regional teams:

No. 2 Hawaii (34-1)

The Wahine have won 33 straight since dropping the second match of the season to top-ranked Southern California. They would like nothing better than to avenge that loss in the NCAA final, but there are three opponents to stop before that happens.

The first is a big Illinois team, which finished second in the Big Ten at 15-5. Hawaii's block is on the small side and could get smaller if 6-foot-3 senior Maja Gustin is unable to play tomorrow. She sprained her right ankle during Game 2 of last week's win over Idaho and is listed as day-to-day.

Senior middle Karin Lundqvist would replace Gustin in the lineup. Lundqvist started against Brigham Young, finishing with a career-high 12 kills, hitting .556.

The rest of the starting lineup has played well together all season, led by senior All-America hitters Kim Willoughby and Lily Kahumoku. Willoughby (6.48 kpg, 2.93 dpg, .383) had 16 kills and three aces against BYU, while Kahumoku (4.41 kpg, 3.41 dpg, .296) has quietly risen to No. 3 in all-time UH kills (1,762).

Quickness will be crucial to Hawaii's success. Few teams have figured out senior third-team All-American Lauren Duggins or her quick arm-swing. Duggins had 11 kills, hitting .476, and was in on three blocks against BYU. Senior hitter Nohea Tano has also been quietly effective on the right side, giving freshman setter Kanoe Kamana'o another athletic option.

This marks the sixth consecutive time Hawaii has advanced to the regional, 20th appearance overall. The Wahine are 14-5 in regional semifinal matches and 7-6 in regional finals.

Hawaii is 52-18 in NCAA Tournament play and 48-8 in the AIAW Tournament (1974-80). The victory over BYU was UH's 100th in postseason play.

Coach Dave Shoji is in his 29th season (838-148-1) with four national titles.

"Illinois presents a lot of problems," said Shoji. "People have really underestimated them this year."

Hawaii is 6-1 against Illinois, with the one loss coming in the 1992 season, the only year UH did not advance to the NCAA Tournament. The Wahine are 2-0 against the Illini in the NCAA Tournament, both wins coming in the national semifinals (1987 and 1988).

Hawaii is 7-0 against Cal and 1-0 against Georgia Tech:

Two words for the Wahine's success: seven seniors.

No. 7 California (25-6)

The Golden Bears are in the Sweet 16 for the first time, advancing with sweeps of St. Mary's and Michigan last week.

This is the seventh NCAA Tournament appearance for Cal, ranked in the Top 25 during the postseason for the first time since 1989. The Bears are 6-6 all-time in tournament play.

Cal, which started the season with a school-best 16 victories, has won its last six. The Bears' only losses came in conference, twice to USC and UCLA, and once each to Stanford and Arizona.

Cal finished 12-6 in the Pac-10, the most wins ever in conference play, and posted back-to-back 20-win seasons for the first time in 20 years.

Junior All-American Mia Jerkov, a 6-3 hitter, leads the Bears (5.97 kpg). As a sophomore, she became Cal's first All-American since Sylvie Monnet in 1983.

Freshman setter Samantha Carter led the conference in assists (13.39) and is working on a Cal single-season assist record (1,500). Junior middle Camille Leffall is the school record-holder for career hitting percentage (.353) and leads the Bears in blocks (1.13 bpg).

Rich Feller, the Pac-10 Coach of the Year, is in his fifth season (81-66). He is very familiar to Hawaii fans as the former Colorado State coach for 14 years.

"I said at the end of last year that we got to the (NCAA) banquet and tasted it, and next year we wanted to have dessert," said Feller, whose team lost to UC Santa Barbara in the second round last year. "Now I'm thinking we're just having a second course, and dessert comes later."

The Bears have never met the Jackets and are 0-2 against Illinois. They are 0-7 against the Wahine, with the last meeting coming in the 1999 season opener at Berkeley.

Two words for the Bears' success: Pac-10 schedule.

No. 11 Georgia Tech (33-3)

The Yellow Jackets, coming off sweeps last weekend over Alabama A&M and Florida A&M, are in the Sweet 16 for the first time.

Tech is led by senior setter Kele Eveland, the ACC Player of the Year. She leads the nation in assists (14.9 apg) and has the Jackets averaging 18.2 kpg, tops in the NCAA. She ranks seventh on the all-time NCAA list (6,342) and needs 38 to move into sixth.

Tech also features all-conference picks Lynnette Moster, a 5-10 junior hitter (4.17 kpg) and Alexandra Preiss, a 6-3 middle (3.68 kpg, .415). Lauren Sauer, a 6-4 outside, leads the team in kills (4.24 kpg).

The Jackets won the ACC regular-season title (15-1) but lost to Maryland in the title match, ending a seven-match win streak. Tech opened the year on a 23-win tear only to fall to Maryland, their only conference loss.

This is the seventh NCAA Tournament appearance for the Jackets, and their fourth in a row. They are 6-6 all-time.

Coach Bond Shymansky is in his second year (66-9).

"We're so excited about going to Hawaii and it's not about the mai tais and the hula dancing -- it's about the volleyball," said Shymansky. "Our team thrives on tough challenges and this will be a tough challenge."

Tech has never played Cal. The Jackets are 0-1 vs. the Wahine and 0-4 against the Illini.

Two words for the Jackets' success: for real.

No. 15 Illinois (26-6)

The Fighting Illini advanced to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1998 with 3-0 wins last week over Murray State and No. 19 Louisville. The 26 victories are the most for Illinois since the 1992 team won 32.

The Illini are 21-14 in 15 tournament appearances. Illinois missed the tournament last season but was one of seven Big Ten teams to earn a bid this season.

All-conference selections Lisa Argabright and Erin Virtue lead a balanced Illinois attack. Argabright, a 6-5 senior middle, leads the team in kills (3.79 kpg), hitting percentage (.383) and blocks (1.29 bpg). Virtue, a junior setter, led the Big 10 in assists.

Shelly O'Bryan, a 6-3 senior middle, is second in blocks. She and the three Illini outsides --6-foot Melissa Vandrey, 6-3 Rachel VanMeter and 6-4 Jessica Belter -- are all capable of double-figure-kill nights.

Illinois has won its last three and nine of the last 10. Four of their losses were on the road in conference play at Wisconsin, Minnesota, Ohio State and Penn State.

Don Hardin, the Big Ten Coach of the Year, is in his eighth season (142-99) at Illinois.

"We are peaking at the right time," Hardin said after Saturday's win over Louisville, his former team. "We're playing our best volleyball of the season and we're ready to take on anyone."

The Illini are 1-6 against the Wahine, 4-0 against Georgia Tech and 2-0 against Cal.

Two words for the Illini's success: big block.


Shoji receives
coaching award

The American Volleyball Coaches Association yesterday named Hawaii's Dave Shoji its West Region Coach of the Year, while four Rainbow Wahine were selected to the All-West Region team.

This is Shoji's first region honor since 1998, when the team finished 32-3.

Freshman setter Kanoe Kamana'o was named to the first team and is the Freshman of the Year. She ranks 14th nationally in assists (13.33 apg).

Chosen for the third time to the first team were UH senior hitters Kim Willoughby and Lily Kahumoku. Senior hitter Lauren Duggins was named honorable mention.

First-team selections are now eligible for national All-America honors.

Cal coach Rich Feller was named co-coach of the year for the Pacific Region, along with Pepperdine's Nina Matthies. Other players competing in this week's regional here selected were: Mia Jerkov, Cal; and Lisa Argabright and Erin Virtue, Illinois.

Star-Bulletin staff


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