The ninth-ranked Rainbow Wahine hope to iron out some kinks in practice before beginning WAC play tomorrow against Boise State.

UH freshens up

The struggling Rainbow Wahine
want a clean, new start in
the WAC season opener

THE brooms came out in Gym 1 yesterday as members of the Hawaii volleyball team did a little housekeeping before practice, cleaning up some wayward dust and leaves.

The Rainbow Wahine hope it foreshadows this week's results: tidying up their play while sweeping their three scheduled matches.

No. 9 Hawaii (5-5) puts its 91-match Western Athletic Conference winning streak on the line tomorrow when opening its league title defense against Boise State (4-3). The Wahine then finish off their nonconference play Friday and Saturday against Loyola Marymount (9-1).

After a month's worth of playing at least one ranked team a week, Hawaii finally has a breather ... maybe. The pressure could be far greater in trying to uphold its lofty standing as the WAC standard-bearer.

"They've lost to some very good teams," Utah State coach Burt Fuller said of the Wahine. "But no one (in the WAC) is shedding any tears for them. They've had some injuries, changed some personnel ... and they've beaten some very good teams.

"There is no shame in what they've done. They're still the team to beat in our conference. Everyone in the WAC, new or old, is still gunning for them."

With the addition of Utah State (7-6), New Mexico State (6-1) and Idaho (7-4), the conference is tougher from top to bottom. Nevada (5-5), like Hawaii, has had some good wins -- including knocking off No. 21 Cal last week in five -- and saw some winnable ones get away -- 3-2 losses to both No. 13 UCLA and No. 22 BYU.

"No question it's deeper and tougher," Hawaii coach Dave Shoji said. "Every year is getting to be more of a challenge. I haven't seen the teams physically but, on paper, they're all better.

"We know the talent level on the other side of the net isn't what we've seen the past few weeks. What we need to do is to have that killer instinct, regardless of who we're playing. We need to be able to put teams away, cut down on mistakes, mentally and physically, especially at the ends of games."

To wit, this week's practices will include more game simulations where the Wahine practice being in close situations, such as being at 28-28, as they were against No. 2 Washington last week. Hawaii couldn't push through three times against the Huskies.

After last Saturday's loss, Shoji joked that he was on suicide watch. But he knows that it was no laughing matter that little mental and physical mistakes killed Hawaii's chances against Washington.

"Everyone hits balls out but you can't hit balls out at 28-28," Shoji said. "The difference was that Washington wasn't hitting balls out when the chips were on the line and we were. There were little mistakes but they're huge in terms of hurting your chances to win games against a team like that.

"I think we'll compete better this week. At least, that's the idea. Both teams coming in are good. We have three days of practice then three matches. We'll see how it goes."

A look the WAC teams according to the coaches' preseason poll:

1. Hawaii (5-5)

The Wahine still don't have a set lineup. Good for the players trying to become starters, bad for the players who don't know who's playing where or when.

Some of UH's mistakes have come due to confusion over who is in the passing formation or where they should be on the court in certain situations. Shoji said it would be ideal to have a set lineup but both sophomore hitter Tara Hittle and junior hitter Sarah Mason are still not at full strength following ankle sprains.

Hawaii went back to the lineup used for most of last season last Saturday, in part to raise the tempo of the offense and help beat the Huskies' block. Still, it's hard to keep the 6-foot-3 Mason out of the lineup because of her size, an advantage she has over last year's starter Alicia Arnott (6-feet).

The experiment of Hittle at libero may be over as she played well enough in her full-time return to the front row last week. Senior Ashley Watanabe, back at libero full-time Saturday, had 16 digs.

"I think we'll be ready for the WAC," senior middle Victoria Prince said. "I don't think we'll see anything we haven't seen already as far as mental toughness and physical ability.

"LMU might be the harder match but Boise will count more. I still feel we're the No. 1 team in the WAC and the fact that the rest of the teams have gotten better is a good thing. It will make it more competitive and help us get prepared for the postseason."

2. Nevada (5-5)

The Wolf Pack went above .500 with a 3-0 outing last week, with victories over No. 21 Cal, Akron and Montana State. Leading the way was senior middle Salaia Salave'a, who posted her first career triple-double against the Golden Bears (18 kills, 14 digs, 10 blocks), earning her player-of-the-week honors Monday.

Reno, like Hawaii, has had some tough losses. Salave'a went out with a sprained ankle as the Pack were rallying in Game 5 against BYU, one of two five-game losses to ranked teams for the season. Against UCLA, Nevada led 14-9 in Game 5 only to see the Bruins win it with a 7-0 run.

The Wolf Pack has won its last four matches following a 3-1 loss to Loyola Marymount Sept. 10.

Junior hitter Carly Sorensen leads the team in kills (4.47 kpg) and aces (13) with Salave'a second in both categories (4.38 kpg, 12 aces). Salave'a and sophomore middle Karly Sipherd are co-block leaders (1.10 bpg).

3. Idaho (7-4)

The Vandals, one of three new WAC newcomers, have started off well. They saw their three-match winning streak end last week on the road at Utah with losses to the host Utes and then No. 17 Santa Clara. Idaho also has 3-1 losses to Ohio and Loyola Marymount.

Senior hitter Kari Tikker (3.55 kpg) recorded her 1,000th kill in the loss to Utah. Senior libero Meghan Brown needs 18 digs to become the school's career leader; the record is 1,814.

Freshman middle Sarah Loney leads the team in blocks (1.09). The Vandals are third in the WAC as a team in aces (1.68 apg).

4. New Mexico State (6-1)

As expected, the Aggies have come out strong. They dropped their first match of the year last Friday at Colorado State 3-0 then rebounded with a 3-0 sweep of host Wyoming on Saturday.

NMSU also has a win over a good Cincinnati team. The Aggies have three attackers averaging 3.0 kills or better per match in 6-foot sophomore hitter Kim Oguh (3.40), 6-1 junior middle Alice Borden (3.20) and 5-11 junior hitter Tanya Allen (3.00).

Leading the Aggies is junior setter Jackie Choi, the Sun Belt Newcomer of the Year who transferred from TCU.

5. Utah State (7-6)

The other Aggies, moving over from the Big West, promise to again be tough following an injury-plagued season last year. Still, Utah State was able to take the then-No. 1 Wahine to five in Logan last November.

"We're healthy," USU coach Burt Fuller said. "We've had a couple of good wins and a couple of close losses that showed us we can compete. We have New Mexico State this week (tomorrow) and I can say I'm glad we're opening at home."

Again leading the Aggies is senior opposite Suzana Cernianska (4.92 kpg, 17 kills), who had 20 kills in the upset of No. 24 UC Santa Barbara at the Stanford tournament last week. USU went 1-2 in the three-day event with an 0-3 loss to the host Cardinal and a 3-2 setback against No. 23 St. Mary's.

The Aggies also played BYU tough before falling in four in Provo and saw another one get away in losing to Utah 3-2.

Sophomore hitter Beth Hodge is back after a season-ending injury last year and is second in kills (3.24). USU also has Kahuku product Monarisa Ale, considered the team's top all-around player, who has been used at middle and opposite.

6. Boise State (4-3)

Hitter Telia Peterson is off to a strong senior year, leading the Broncos in kills (3.67 kpg) and digs (3.0 dpg). Junior middle Cameron Flunder appears headed toward another All-WAC award (3.38 kpg, 0.92 bpg).

Boise State has been on the road for all but one match. The Broncos dropped their lone appearance in the Bronco Gym to Utah Valley State, 3-1.

BSU is on a two-match winning streak with victories at Texas Tech and Idaho State.

7. San Jose State (5-6)

The Spartans are coming off a tough Saturday where they were swept by UC Riverside then dropped a 3-2 match to Loyola Marymount at the Cal State Fullerton tournament.

Sounding much like Shoji, SJS coach Craig Choate said, "We can't figure out how to compete sometimes."

Leading the team on offense are junior setter-turned hitter Kristina Conrad (3.71 kpg) and sophomore middle Jennifer Senftleban (3.51 kpg). All-WAC libero Jessie Shull could break her own school records for digs; the junior has 235 (5.22 dpg) so far.

San Jose State opens play in its newly refurbished Spartan Gym tomorrow against Idaho, hoping to end a four-match skid.

8. Fresno State (2-8)

The Bulldogs were expected to struggle after losing coach Lindy Vivas and two key players who transferred, including Kahuku's Tuli Peters, now at Brigham Young-Hawaii. First-year coach Ruben Nieves, who won an NCAA men's volleyball title in 1997 at Stanford, will need some time to turn the program around.

FSU has lost its last seven, including three to ranked teams (Arizona, UC Santa Barbara and Santa Clara).

Sophomore hitter Mounia Nihipali (Kamehameha) leads the team in kills (3.30 kpg) followed by freshman Kasie Spencer (3.17 kpg). Senior hitter La'akea Campbell (Iolani) has had solid overall performances (2.04 kpg, 2.17 dpg).

9. Louisiana Tech (12-2)

This may be the one and only time these Bulldogs are at the top of the standings. But LaTech has already won twice as many matches as it did all last season when it went 6-21, thanks in part to Brazilian newcomers Anielle DaSilva, a junior hitter, and sophomore setter Maria Romanowski.

Sophomore middle Shannon Phillips earned MVP honors at the Hampton Inn Tournament in Troy, Ala., with a combined 35 kills and .552 hitting percentage. The Lady Techsters set school records in the win over Alcorn State, with a single-game mark of .727 and single-match mark of .507.

After playing the likes of Grambling, Mercer and Lousiana-Lafayette to get them off to their best season in history, the Lady Techsters leave the south for a road trip to Nevada tomorrow. The Wolf Pack likely will bring LaTech back to reality.

Wahine Volleyball

Tomorrow: Boise State (4-3) at No. 9 Hawaii 9 (5-5), 7 p.m.

Friday: Loyola Marymount (9-1) at Hawaii, 7 p.m.

Saturday: Alumnae match, 5 p.m. Loyola Marymount vs. Hawaii, 7 p.m.

Radio: Live, KKEA (1420-AM).

TV: Live, KFVE (Ch. 5).

Internet: www.hawaiiantelmedia.com (fee); www.sportsradio1420.com (free).

Tickets: Tomorrow $3-16. Friday-Saturday $3-$18.

Box Office or OCET at Windward Community College, online at hawaiiathletics.com or by phone at (808) 944-2697.

| | |
E-mail to Sports Desk


© Honolulu Star-Bulletin -- https://archives.starbulletin.com