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Wahine roll UCSB

Jane Croson's all-around game is superb in her return from suspension

By Ann Miller

LAST UPDATED: 02:57 a.m. HST, Nov 02, 2012

Jane Croson needed 15 minutes Thursday to remind people that for all her wild and crazy offense, what ninth-ranked Hawaii missed most is her ability to serve as a back-row security blanket.

In her first volleyball match in a month, Croson collected 10 digs in the opening set of a 25-8, 25-19, 25-18 Big West Conference win over UC-Santa Barbara.



Key: The Wahine hit .305 and outdig the Gauchos 41-34

Next: UH vs. Cal Poly, 7 p.m. Saturday, OC Sports (Ch. 16)

"I just wanted to get every ball I can," Croson said, "because it felt good to be out there."

"She's in the right spot and you can't teach that," UH coach Dave Shoji added. "She's one of the reasons we had a good night. She's a six-rotation player. She passes, plays defense and obviously she hits.

"We struggled without her, to be honest, but it looked pretty smooth tonight. Defensively, anything hit in her direction came up. She makes it look easy and it's really not that easy."

A Stan Sheriff Center crowd of 4,238 saw the Rainbow Wahine (20-2, 13-0 Big West) run their NCAA-best string of conference wins to 68. It also saw the popular Croson come back from a monthlong suspension for breaking undisclosed team rules.

There was a gigantic poster of her face waving in the upper deck. On the floor, Croson had clearly not missed a beat, finishing with a season-high 19 digs, eight kills and two rim shots off UCSB libero Taylor Formico's left shoulder.

It looked like the same Croson but, of course, it was not. What happened — and she and Shoji are still not saying what it was — was serious. For the rest of this season and probably her career, a gifted player who kids idolize is basically on probation.

"On the court, I still need to focus on wanting to get better," said Croson, who ran and worked out for the three weeks she could not practice. "When I came back I had that urge, I wanted to practice every time I stepped on the court. I have to have that mindset.

"Off the court, I need to get my school work done and Dave has a couple things I still have to do. I need to meet those requirements. It's going to help me out."

The Gauchos helped Hawaii out Thursday. Their offense imploded piece by piece, beginning with extremely poor passing and five UH aces. When UH swept them in Santa Barbara a month ago, the Gauchos hit just .058. They bumped that to a meager .086 this time, going through two setters — including Punahou graduate Ali Santi — and 19 hitting errors.

The Wahine attack flourished with four players at eight kills-plus. Hawaii hammered the Gauchos in the opening set harder than it has hammered any opponent since the season opener against Albany.

Four hitters combined to go 9-for-10 in that set. The missing link was National Player of the Week Emily Hartong, who started slow — again — but buried her last three swings.

That helped Hawaii score 19 of the last 22 points, with setter Mita Uiato serving nine straight.

Santa Barbara funneled its frustration into a 9-6 advantage in Set 2, before the Wahine went on a 15-4 tear to break it open again. Libero Ali Longo served six in a row and Hartong went for five kills in the set.

UH brought Ashley Kastl in on the left in the final set, sending Hartong opposite the setter. That began badly, with the Wahine falling into a 9-6 hole. Senior Emily Maeda helped them out by serving five straight.

Hartong would finish with a match-high 11 kills on 26 swings, her lowest totals since before Croson went out.

"Hartong is clearly the best player in the Big West this year," said UCSB's Kathy Gregory, who, like Shoji, is in her 38th year of coaching and in all kinds of volleyball halls of fame. "She clearly is."

The win dropped Santa Barbara (13-13, 6-5) back into a pack of five Big West teams with five losses. The Wahine have clinched at least a tie for the Big West title with five matches left.

"It's hard to tell how they are," Gregory said. "Physically they have the talent, but we didn't give them much of a challenge. It's the best talent in the league and more depth than anyone else."

It was UCSB's first match in Hawaii since 2001, and one of its quickest. It took the Wahine 83 minutes to reach 20 wins for the 34th time in their long history, including the last 19 years.

Hawaii hosts Cal Poly Saturday at 7 p.m. before heading out on its final conference road trip.

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heluhelu wrote:
Welcome back Jane. Way to take care of business Na Wahine.Great to see/hear coach stay positive even though his obvious nemesis is complacency and the obvious goal daily, unrelenting improvement to peak/prepare for you-know-what.
on November 2,2012 | 03:56AM
Grammy wrote:
That was what I expected to see, but UCSB helped dig the deep holes for themselves all night. As each set starts tied at 0-0, the eventual winner has to string together somewhere along the way a breakaway run of points and the Wahine did that. The Gauchos helped too, but the Wahine were very efficient and workmanlike in seizing momentum and holding it to the end. It was a team effort and quick. And what I liked was there was no drama about who was going to win almost from the introductions (maybe even the National Anthem and Hawai'i Ponoi). Hawaii at home, on their court with their crowd - what a combination. And Jane back to her thing, but others still chipping in with contributions even Ashley. I think what happened was as much about the role players and stars turning in solid performances, not hurting the team effort, all playing their 'roles'. Which is why Jane's month was such a 'bump' in the road for us. But by her own words, she has shown it was a good thing to happen for her and the right thing for Coach Dave to do for the program and her, too. Good players in good hands in front of the Rainbow Wahine Ohana. Hawaii volleyball at its best. Go Wahine! Aloha and Mahalo, Jane.
on November 2,2012 | 04:45AM
bleedgreen wrote:
Jane's presence was big. And Emily Maeda continues to contribute quietly. Same for Goodman. Hartong is Hartong, the best in the Big West.
on November 2,2012 | 05:32AM
kennie1933 wrote:
I like Jane, but also think Maeda is one of those unsung heroes. She knows she's not going to be on anyone's all-star list, Olympic team or even UH's all time player list, but she does her job well regardless. I'll be sorry to see her go on senior night, but with her work ethic, I'm sure she will be successful in whatever she does after graduation.
on November 2,2012 | 08:30AM
FreeRadical wrote:
I hope she gets past her drug problem. She needs to be in rehab. The team showed that even without her they still can move forward and kick ***!!
on November 2,2012 | 06:57AM
Publicbraddah wrote:
I didn't read anything about a drug problem. It sounds like it was more an academic problem.
on November 2,2012 | 08:07AM
fka wrote:
Whatever it is,what's more important is she is back. Hopefully,she can continue to contribute,as her athleticism is one that the Wahines cannot afford to lose. The team now looks complete with her in there. Her defense last night was awesome! WELCOME BACK,JANE,DON'T LEAVE US HANGING AGAIN!!
on November 2,2012 | 11:02AM
BTO wrote:
UH Looked great last night! With Croson being out, it made the others step up. It was a blessing in disguise. Now you have some awesome balance, Uiato spread the ball around most masterfully. With a gauntlet of weapons now at her mercy, defenses can not key on just one or two hitters. Croson was valuable last night in her passing. It was spot on.
on November 2,2012 | 08:58AM
Hiroaki23 wrote:
Coach Dave thanks for letting Kaela play more minutes as she deserves it. Looks like JC came back humbled and ready to work so that was also good to see. What is still an issue but Mita did a little better, was the disparity still in the # of sets to Vorster vs Kalei. Kalei had 6 less sets but was out hit by only 1:8-9. If she had 17 sets she probably would have had 15 kills. At one point in game 3, Mita set Vorster 3 balls in a row w/out getting the kill. Still think Stauber needs more than token appearances.
on November 2,2012 | 02:03PM