Monday, November 30, 2015         


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True freshmen Hartong and Waber shine for Hawaii

By Cindy Luis


Last night's 68th meeting between No. 5 Hawaii and No. 16 UCLA was notable on several fronts.

For the first time since the teams began their rivalry in 1974, coach Andy Banachowski was not on the Bruins bench, having retired last January. Instead, it was former Rainbow Wahine associate coach Mike Sealy on the losing side of last night's Chevron Volleyball Invitational championship match at the Stan Sheriff Center.

But more impressive than Hawaii's 25-22, 25-19, 18-25, 25-21 toppling of UCLA -- which ran the Wahine's series lead to 36-32 -- was the obvious growth of UH's two freshmen in their third starts of the season.

Rarely has the winningest active coach in Division I gone with two true freshmen in the starting lineup, but Dave Shoji has done just that in his 36th season. Outside hitter Michelle Waber and Emily Hartong, the latter used both as a middle and on the outside during the tournament, answered the trust and responsibility placed in them with their performances last night.

Waber put down a career-high 12 kills and Hartong matched her career high of nine.

"It was such a good rush of energy," Waber said. "To see all the fans, the first night I was a little jittery. But I love being on the court with these girls. It is a blast and it was awesome."

"It's a shock at first with the crowd and I wasn't used to it," Hartong added. "But when they started cheering, it was really comforting."

And it wasn't just Waber and Hartong who made their debuts during the tourney. Setter Mita Uiato and hitter Kaela Goodman -- the other two members of the 10th-ranked 2010 recruiting class -- saw action. During brief moments of Friday's win over No. 22 San Diego and yesterday, the four were on the court at the same time.

"It's been a while since we've played that many young people (at the same time)," Shoji said. "They're not ready to play at this level all of the time, but I won't hesitate to use them when we need to.

"I thought they (the freshmen) got better as the weekend went on. Told Waber I knew she had it in her and it's just a matter of hitting smart, adjusting to the bigger block. She made a big turnaround tonight. She's got to get better and she's going to."

Senior setter Dani Mafua had no qualms about going to her freshmen. She even set Hartong on a slide play to end Set 1.

"They're ready to come on board and fill in," she said. "They stepped right up and can only get better."

Sealy was in the interesting position of having his team play against the four Hawaii players he helped recruit.

"These freshmen are going to be amazing," Sealy said, leaving with the runner-up trophy. "Waber takes 41 swings with 12 kills and Hartong is the hardest-working middle in the country, always working hard.

"They will be fantastic."

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