SEATTLE » Turns out the only volleyball team capable of hurting Hawaii in last night’s first-round NCAA championship match was Hawaii.
The seventh-ranked Rainbow Wahine (29-2) rose above last week’s meltdown and Big Sky champion Portland State, picking up momentum in a 25-23, 25-19, 25-8 victory.
UH, seeded 15th in the postseason, will meet host Washington tonight at the 11th-ranked Huskies’ Hec Edmundson Pavilion. The winner advances to next weekend’s regional, back at 83-year-old "Hec Ed." UW swept 23rd-ranked Michigan, 25-22, 25-17, 25-16, in the late match.
Earlier, Kanani Danielson (13 kills), Chanteal Satele (12) and freshman Michelle Waber (8) carved up the Vikings’ defense, all hitting .333 or better despite 51 PSU digs. In stark contrast, only one Portland State hitter was over .100.
Hawaii had to overcome the lingering doubts last week’s WAC championship loss to Utah State left behind and the unorthodox Vikings in the opening set. When it did, PSU (21-9) simply didn’t have enough ammunition to fire back.
The final set, characterized as "an embarrassment" by Vikings coach Michael Seemann, lasted just 18 minutes and was one point off the Wahine’s most lopsided set of the season.
"I thought the key for us was to win that first game," UH coach Dave Shoji said. "We still had some doubts about our game from last week. I thought it was real important.
"We had a little problem figuring them out. It’s a pretty unorthodox team and they played us pretty tough in Game 1. Once we won that, we felt better about ourselves and settled down and played really well. Both Chanteal and Kanani hit well and we finally got our block going. It looks like we are on track to playing better."
The block was back with a vengeance after taking a sabbatical last week, or maybe it was just the Vikings. The Wahine had five stuffs in each of the first two sets. They had just five all night against Utah State.
They needed all of them in the opening set, which was tied 10 times, the last at 21. An error and kills from Brittany Hewitt, Danielson and Satele eventually ended it, but beyond their block the Wahine were not imposing.
"Everybody was all excited and everybody didn’t want to blow it, being that it’s our first one and it could be our very last," Danielson said with a shrug. "I think everybody was trying a little too hard."
The Wahine hit just .244 and were outdug 16-10. The dig gap grew even as they began to pull away in the second set. Portland State ended up with a 51-44 advantage, which was nullified by its 27 hitting errors.
Seemann attributed it all to his team’s lack of execution, bluntly detailing the Wahine weaknesses and unhappy his team could not exploit them.
"We didn’t think their middles had good lateral speed and in fact they don’t, but our passing broke down enough that it didn’t matter," he said. "When we were in system we threw a lot of good punches and made them play defense and rallies ensued. Their right-side block was a little undersized and we felt we could exploit that too, but we couldn’t."
Hawaii scored five straight with Alex Griffiths serving to construct a 19-13 advantage in the second set and finished it off despite hitting just .178. It hit .538 in a devastating final set, when its middle attack finally was a threat and its only hitting error came just eight points before it was over.
Hawaii’s passing also progressed as the 94-minute night went on, another sign Shoji desperately wanted to see. And Satele’s huge impact especially pleased Danielson, who usually takes the bulk of the swings on off plays.
"Good pass or bad pass the defense can’t just assume anymore," she said. "They are going to have to guess about us. That’s a plus for us this season."
Some of Satele’s open swings could be traced back to PSU’s defense, which focused on UH middles Emily Hartong and Hewitt. Through two sets they had combined on nine blocks but had just three kills and four errors offensively; they came in averaging 4.5 kills a set and hitting .300-plus.
"Portland State wanted to put two up against our middles," Shoji said. "They were bunched in there pretty tight, which is one reason Chanteal was open. When you try to take that away you pay a price outside. That’s pretty much why Chanteal had a good night. I though Emily did a good job in Game 3 and Brittany will give us some offense tomorrow night. She’ll need to give us some offense tomorrow night."
Senior libero Elizabeth Ka’aihue collected 13 digs to move past Tita Ahuna into second on UH’s career list. With 1,395 digs, Ka’aihue needs 46 to pass Kim Willoughby.
Rainbow Wahine (29-2)
Key — s: games; k: kills; e: hitting errors; att: attempts; pct: hitting percentage; d: digs; bs: block solo; ba: block assists; pts: points (kills plus blocks plus aces)
Aces — PSU (0). Hawaii (1): Kaaihue. Service Errors — PSU (2): Schlatter, Villalpando. Hawaii (3): Mafua, Satele, Uiato. Assists — PSU (33): Schlatter 22, Kristinikova 5, Villalpando 4, Phillips 2. Hawaii (40): Mafua 37, Hewitt, Maeda, Uiato. T — 1:34. Officials — Margie Ray, Lara Donaldson. .