FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
Rainbow Wahine coach Dave Shoji said freshman Jamie Houston "exceeded all expectations" Friday against Penn State.
The silence in the Stan Sheriff Center after a contest is deafening. There are hints of a crowd ... leftover food wrappers, cups and programs.
But it is the whispers that haunt the arena, the same ones that spoke to the junior co-captains of the No. 4-ranked Hawaii Rainbow Wahine volleyball team. Less than an hour after the Rainbow Wahine saw a coming-of-age validation over Penn State slip away, setters Kanoe Kamana'o and Cayley Thurlby sat alone in the cavernous emptiness, trying to figure out what went wrong in the latter part of Friday's match against the fifth-ranked Nittany Lions, the second loss to PSU in seven days.
"Frustrating" was the recurring theme of the conversation after the 22-30, 17-30, 30-27, 30-18, 15-11 loss that sent 1-3 Hawaii to its worst start since 1992. That was the only year in the vaunted 32-year Wahine history in which they did not make the NCAA tournament.
The comparisons between the two teams can be made only in the training room. Injuries plagued the squad in 1992, but they are considered minor irritations with this year's depth.
Still ... Hawaii coach Dave Shoji gave his team the day off, with the only caveat of "Wear sunscreen and a big hat" should the Wahine players choose to attend yesterday afternoon's football game between Hawaii and No. 1 Southern California at Aloha Stadium. It will be the only time the Wahine can support the Warriors; the rest of the season the volleyball team will be on the road on Saturdays the football team plays here.
"We needed a day off," said Shoji, after playing, practicing or traveling daily since Aug. 17. "I am disappointed that we lost to Penn State but can't be disappointed with the effort of our players, especially having the lineup we did."
Due to ankle injuries to outside hitters Tara Hittle and Sarah Mason, Shoji experimented with two lineups during this past week's practices. One had freshman Jamie Houston on the left side, the other had junior reserve setter Thurlby at opposite in a quasi-6-2 lineup that could utilize two setters if the suspect passing of early matches turned, well, even more suspect.
Neither anticipated the loss of junior hitter Alicia Arnott, the team's kill leader last season, who sat out Friday with flu-like symptoms.
Arnott, who started all 32 of last season's matches, had 12 kills in Thursday's win over USC.
Although Kamana'o said she liked the new setup -- one which provided for a solid set if she could not reach the initial pass -- the lineup likely will not be used after today's 4 p.m. match against Western Michigan in the finale of the 18th Hawaiian Airlines Classic.
"It's a great learning experience for our team," first-year Broncos coach Colleen Munson said. "It's good for our kids to see volleyball like this on a big stage."
That will be the key for the Wahine, who saw their nation-leading 39-match home win streak end Friday. It was the first loss in the Sheriff Center dating back to the defeat at the hands of eventual NCAA champion USC in the finale of the 2003 NACWAA Tournament.
"The difference at the end was they started to play better," Shoji said of Penn State. "Both coaches were changing lineups and we couldn't sustain what we were doing.
"And we were not able to do the skills, especially blocking skills. We blocked them for two games and the technique wasn't there from Game 3 on.
"That's definitely a coaching thing, where we need to prepare them to focus and do the skills the entire match."
Although yesterday was a day off physically, it wasn't a day off mentally for Shoji. He was pleased by the team's effort, particularly that of Houston -- "exceeded all expectations" -- and Thurlby -- "played very well after being thrown in as a hitter her first college match."