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Monday, April 21, 2014         

FERD'S WORDS


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Wahine's view from the top of the WAC is truly sweeping

By Ferd Lewis

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It isn't the separation in the standings that best tells the tale of the University of Hawaii's domination of Western Athletic Conference volleyball this season.

Nor is it the runaway 16th consecutive WAC regular-season crown that has, for all intents and purposes, been over for weeks, if not months.

Rather, it is the curious sense of accomplishment glimpsed among opponents when UH so much as signals a tactical timeout. It is the exulting -- and coach Dave Shoji says he has observed examples -- when foes manage to reach the 20-point plateau against the Rainbow Wahine, even when trailing.

In the WAC, aka UH and the eight dwarfs, they take their moments where they find them, however fleeting or Pyrrhic.

So about all that is possibly left for drama tonight, when the Rainbow Wahine close their regular season, will be whether Idaho can do what nobody else in the WAC has been able to do this year and take so much as a set from UH. Not a match, mind you, a single set.

The WAC waits. Well, it might if anybody thought it was a real possibility.

The third-place Vandals (13-13, 8-7 WAC) are all that stand between the third-ranked Rainbow Wahine (26-1, 15-0) and a slamming of the door on the most one-sided run through the conference with an extension of what is currently 56 consecutive set victories.

The Rainbow Wahine's modus operandi began with the third set against nonconference opponent Saint Mary's on Sept. 11 and has continued through 18 matches, 15 of them in the WAC.

By blanking the Vandals on Senior Night and taking care of business in the WAC tournament in Las Vegas (Nov. 22-24), the Rainbow Wahine can move into fifth place on the NCAA's all-time list of consecutive set victories at 65.

That they have gotten to this point is a testament to not just their abilities but, most of all, their focus. How many times in the past, for example, have the Rainbow Wahine yawned and lost concentration for a handful of points, if not most of a set, in dispatching a weaker opponent?

But not this year. In the past, Mike Jordan, head coach of second-place New Mexico State, points out, you might be able to go on a four- or five-point run against UH. Not now. "You're lucky to get two," Jordan said. "They've stepped it up a notch."

Then-assistant coach Charlie Wade popularized the phrase "uno, dos, adios!" when UH went unbeaten (18-0) in the Big West in 1995. Never has it seemed more appropriate than this year.

Remarkably, coaches will tell you, UH has done it against a WAC that might actually be better this year in the middle ranks than in recent years.

New Mexico State owns two of the last three conference victories over UH. Yet, Jordan acknowledges this year, "Part of me has wondered, 'Good lord, what are we going to have to do to win a set?' "

So far, it is a question that has yet to be answered in the WAC.

Reach Ferd Lewis at flewis@staradvertiser.com.






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