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Wahine wrap up sand volleyball home schedule

By Brian McInnis

LAST UPDATED: 1:44 a.m. HST, Apr 8, 2012

Hawaii sand volleyball coach Scott Wong looked around as the last net was broken down at Queen’s Beach Sandbox, and the final few fans and passers-by dispersed into bustling Waikiki. Just like that, UH’s home schedule of its newest sport was a wrap.

But not without offering another taste of what could be. UH did it with a 5-0 sweep of Hawaii Pacific in dual-match play, followed by an exciting all-Rainbow Wahine final in the pairs championship tournament. The all-day Saturday event, viewed by a constant showing of several hundred fans and tourists, was a successful follow-up to the sport’s collegiate debut there on March 17.

“It’s kind of too bad that we can only play two this year here, but we’re looking forward to playing more and more as the years go on, and growing with the sport here in Hawaii,” Wong said.

This team — made up largely of UH indoor volleyball players, plus a few sand-specific transfers — might be done in the islands in 2012, but there’s much more to play for.

The Wahine (2-2) have a series of dual matches this weekend in California (Loyola Marymount, Long Beach State, USC and Pepperdine) that will likely make or break an appearance in the inaugural AVCA sand championships at Gulf Shores, Ala., at the end of the month.

“That is going to be a big weekend for us, our biggest weekend,” Wong said. “So we’re looking forward to having a good tournament there and then we’ll find out Sunday evening/afternoon where we stand.”

On Saturday, anyway, UH looked sharp. In the 16-team pairs field — the main event — UH had seven teams, HPU entered five and Chaminade four. It was clearly the best two pairs that made the final, with four players who knew their opponents’ games well.

The second-seeded team of Emily Hartong and Elizabeth (Ka‘aihue) Stoltzman laid claim to the title with a 21-12, 22-20 defeat of top-seeded Ashley Lee and Jane Croson, the UH tandem that was coming off a big pairs title at the North Florida Tournament the previous week.

They came from behind in the second set to do it, rallying from 14-10 and 18-16 deficits. Stoltzman blocked Lee on the winning point, and the veteran earned the last of several rounds of applause from the appreciative crowd.

The 6-foot-2 Hartong made things difficult for her counterparts across the net with 16 kills and four blocks in the title game, as she and the wily Stoltzman (15 kills, 10 digs) made it 2-for-2 in pairs titles at Queen’s this season.

“It was awesome. They’re an amazing team,” Hartong said. “It feels good (teaming with Liz), I think we have that chemistry now.”

Lee, who came over for the single year of sand volleyball after getting her degree at Long Beach State, was making her home debut and finale at the same time. She thoroughly enjoyed it, even after the loss.

“This has been exactly what I thought it would be, and more,” said the 5-foot-9 Lee, who had several smashes among her 14 kills in the final. “It’s a dream come true. Best coaches, best teammates. So much fun, and I never had a closer group of girls as teammates. I think the coaches do a great job of just balancing us out.

“(Hartong and Stoltzman) are a great team, and they’re so smart. Mature. It really helps me and Jane to learn the different things and techniques we didn’t think of during the game. After, you’re kind of like, ‘Why didn’t I do that?’ ”

HPU, technically still a club team in sand volleyball, also made strides from its showing last month by placing the 11th-seeded team of Christina Furrer and Hannah Schuett in the semifinals. Sea Warriors coach Daryl Kapis is hopeful his school will soon convert its sand team to the official NCAA ranks.

“To have three teams in the quarterfinals and one in the semifinals is a huge reflection of where we are as a program,” Kapis said. “That’s the biggest part of it. We’ve continued to improve ... That was two freshmen in the semifinals. Huge for us. I’m very, very ecstatic.”

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