POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Nov 3, 2012
Joining a conference has clearly been very good to Hawaii volleyball, with 19 championships in 28 years of membership.
Whether it has been very, very good is up for argument — not that there was ever a choice when the NCAA seized control of women's sports in the early 1980s.
"It was hell trying to be an independent back then," UH coach Dave Shoji said. "We were going on these 10-day road trips and playing nine games or something ridiculous. We were traveling from one city to the next. It was almost like the Globetrotters. Then we wouldn't play for two weeks. So being in a conference is much more desirable."
WAHINE VOLLEYBALLAt Stan Sheriff Center
» Today: No. 9 Hawaii (20-2, 13-0) vs. Cal Poly (3-20, 2-9), 7 p.m.
» TV: OC Sports, Ch. 16
» Radio: KKEA, 1420-AM
Particularly when you win more than 90 percent of your matches. The ninth-ranked Rainbow Wahine can claim their 19th conference title outright tonight by beating Cal Poly.
It comes in their return to the Big West after a record — and record-padding — purge of the Western Athletic Conference the previous 15 years.
Hawaii went 270-7 in the WAC. It still holds the NCAA record of 132 consecutive wins over conference opponents, going more than eight years without a loss. It goes into tonight's match with the country's best regular-season conference winning streak — 68.
But of the Wahine's four national titles, three were won before they joined the Pacific Coast Athletic Association in 1985 (it became the Big West in 1988).
The landscape of college athletics, particularly women's sports, has changed radically since. There are no successful independents in volleyball now. But has joining a conference really made Hawaii better?
"You always wish your conference was stronger," Shoji acknowledged. "I would love to play a Pac-12 schedule. Our record wouldn't be as good, but you're forced to get better or you take your lumps. Sometimes you'd rather have that situation than winning all the time."
The PCAA was the dominant volleyball conference when Hawaii joined. It sent eight teams to the 1988 NCAA tournament. Hawaii, Pacific and Long Beach State combined to win six titles from 1982 to 1989.
By the time the Wahine moved to the WAC in 1996, the Pac-12 and Big Ten had begun to dominate. Hawaii is the only ranked team in the Big West this season, as it was for most of its WAC history. Long Beach State was the only Big West team that went to the NCAA tournament two of the last four years. A Big West team hasn't won in the postseason since 2008.
Two weeks ago Shoji told his team, whose last loss was Sept. 9, that it won the conference.
"People are going to keep beating everybody else, so basically we had won the conference," he said. "We are not going to lose five matches. This conference is way more competitive and way deeper than the WAC. … Anybody can beat anybody else, including us."
The Wahine have gone five sets four times, but no Big West team has beaten them yet. The critical question is, are the Big West opponents preparing them for the postseason?
Shoji will say only that it is making his unpredictable team "tougher."
"It's a thrill a minute and you never know what you're going to get," he said, "so you should come and watch it. … It's fun to go to practice now because everybody's got to earn a spot."
» Freshman Tai Manu-Olevao is not expected to play tonight. She injured an ankle in practice Tuesday.
» Junior Emily Hartong had 990 kill attempts her first two seasons combined. She has 973 this year, including 40-plus in 13 matches. Hartong is sixth in the country, averaging 4.57 kills a set.
WAHINE VOLLEYBALL CONFERENCE HISTORY
In Progress (clinched tie for first)
Totals: 410-35 regular season (.921)
36-3 WAC Tournament (.923)
446-38 overall (.921)
19 overall conference championships in 28 seasons