Something's got to give as UH and New Mexico State clash


POSTED: Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Hawaii and New Mexico State volleyball teams can thank each other for the blemishes that prevented a perfect Western Athletic Conference regular season. Neither has lost since, with the sixth-ranked Rainbow Wahine (25-3) riding an 11-win streak and the Aggies (23-7) one of 14 straight into today's 3 p.m. WAC tournament championship final.






        » Who: New Mexico State vs. Hawaii


» When: 3 p.m.


» Where: Stan Sheriff Center


» Tickets: $16 & $19


» TV: KFVE (Ch. 5)


» Radio: KKEA 1420-AM



“;It did make us rethink things, look at what we were doing and what we needed to do better,”; Hawaii associate coach Mike Sealy said. “;If you keep being successful, there's the feeling that you don't need to change anything. Why fix something that's not broken?”;

The Wahine have tweaked their offense, solidified their passing and been more aggressive in serving. The one change Hawaii didn't expect was at setter; until yesterday morning, sophomore Dani Mafua (right hamstring) hadn't participated in practice since leaving early in Set 1 last Saturday against Utah Valley.

Junior setter Stephanie Brandt, last year's starter, has been in ever since. The All-WAC tournament pick last November, will get the nod today.

“;Dani is close to being ready, but I don't want to have to use her,”; Hawaii coach Dave Shoji said.

Today's key in Shoji's mind is slowing down New Mexico State middle Amber Simpson. The 6-foot-2 senior was impressive in Friday's win over San Jose State (14 kills, .619, six blocks) and “;we're not going to shut a player of her caliber down, but we need to slow her down,”; Shoji said. “;We've got to block intelligently on her and their two outsides (senior Lindsey Yon and junior Krista Altermatt).”;

That's part of the game plan for New Mexico State, which needs to slow Hawaii's multi-prong attack that features senior hitter Jamie Houston and freshman hitter Kanani Danielson. While the Wahine lead the WAC in hitting percentage (.309), the Aggies lead in opponent hitting percentage (.084).

“;I don't think there's much of a difference from the first match to the second,”; Aggies coach Mike Jordan said of the two contests with Hawaii. “;The first match, we didn't pass as well as we can, the second match they didn't pass as well and became more predictable.

“;If there is something on our side, there might have been a little self-doubt coming into the first match after our tough preseason (including four losses in a row). And we weren't as good at the ends of games. There's more confidence now.”;

Most would consider New Mexico State's sweep of Hawaii at the Stan Sheriff Center on Oct. 12 more of a stunner than the Wahine's 3-0 victory on Sept. 27 in Las Cruces, N.M. Still, little has separated the two this year other than, perhaps, national perception.

Hawaii opened the year 1-2 and actually moved up in the coaches' poll from 12th in the preseason to No. 11. Even the loss to New Mexico State didn't cause much of a blip on the national radar; the Wahine slipped three spots to ninth the day after losing but have gradually climbed back up to No. 6.

On the other hand, New Mexico State was ranked 23rd in the preseason rankings but, after also going 1-2 the first weekend, disappeared. The Aggies had enough votes this week to come in at 26th.

In the more important Ratings Percentage Index that will be used for the NCAA tournament seedings, Hawaii is 16th while New Mexico State is 35th. A win today is critical for both teams and it's difficult to say who needs the victory more in order to impress the selection committee, although a loss by the Wahine would do more damage.

“;We think we need to win out, hoping to get a top-eight seed,”; Shoji said. All we can do is win, then we've done all we can do. A loss obviously hurts us.”;

So what to expect today? Hawaii and New Mexico State were 1-2 in the WAC in four of the six statistical categories: kills, hitting percentage, assists and aces.

But the two that the Aggies had the edge in—blocks and digs—could mean the difference this afternoon.

Look to the margin of victory this season—each team won by a combined nine points—and the anticipation is of a tight match, whether it goes three, four or five.

“;I think it's anyone's game,”; Idaho coach Debbie Buchanan said after Friday's semifinal loss to Hawaii. “;Hawaii's got a great home-court advantage, the crowd and the atmosphere.

“;New Mexico State has to feel pretty confident, winning the last time here. But I know Hawaii will fight like crazy not to have it happen again. Honestly, it could go either way.”;

“;I think it's going to be about who can slow down the power hitters,”; San Jose State coach Oscar Crespo said after his team was eliminated by the Aggies on Friday. “;It's going to come down to ball control. Serving will be crucial.

“;For New Mexico State, their lefts (left-side hitters) will have to have a solid match. Hawaii has more power on the left, but that's going to be tested.”;