Fifth-ranked Hawaii found a successful balance literally and figuratively last night in its most insightful test of this young volleyball season.
The Rainbow Wahine remained unbeaten and won the Chevron Rainbow Wahine Invitational, defeating 16th-ranked UCLA 25-22, 25-19, 18-25, 25-21.
UH All-American Kanani Danielson rose over everyone to earn most outstanding player honors for the tournament, and provide enough kills (17), digs (15) and perfect passes to get Hawaii over all the speed bumps last night and opening weekend.
But it was all the assists she received that a Stan Sheriff Center crowd of 5,029 (6,495 tickets issued) found most intriguing. Senior setter Dani Mafua got nine kills from every other UH hitter.
She characterized her team as "more focused, calm and collected" than the first two nights, when Hawaii outlasted 22nd-ranked San Diego in five and KO’d Kansas State in three rocky sets.
UCLA swept both those teams, but last night UH was the better team when it counted.
"We really stuck together," Mafua said. "We were tested a lot during different games. Teams would take the momentum away from us, but we did a great job of bouncing back and coming together and really finding a rhythm to take over a match."
In the first two sets UCLA, which led the Pac-10 in blocking the past two years, had no idea which Rainbow Wahine would hit them next.
Hawaii (3-0) was hitting .411 going into the third set. It finally came down to earth against the team picked to finish seventh in the Pac-10 in Mike Sealy’s first year as head coach. He was UH’s associate coach the past four years.
» Amy Mahinalani DeGroot, San Diego
The Bruins (2-1) began to block the Rainbow Wahine. Sealy brought back freshman Kelly Reeves, who lost her hitting position opening night. She shredded Hawaii with eight third-set kills.
"She wasn’t in the first two games and I guess she kind of caught us off guard, sneaking in there," said UH freshman Michelle Waber, who finished with 12 kills. "We were blocking high and she was hitting low and going through it a lot."
UH finally figured Reeves out, scoring 10 of the final set’s first 15 points. The Bruins caught up, but the Wahine did not let this one get away. They collected four of their six stuffs in Set 4 and Danielson tipped and ripped her last five kills to finish it.
"Last night helped us steady out and we got some confidence," said UH coach Dave Shoji. "Tonight there was no panic, no getting down.
"It’s hard to sustain what we did in the first two games into Game 3, so it’s kind of a … not a letdown, but you just can’t keep that level up against a good team. It was nice we came back and had a good start in Game 4."
It was also nice for Hawaii that everyone got involved. Libero Elizabeth Ka’aihue was named all-tournament, as was Brittany Hewitt, who went 9-for-19 to back up a huge (16 blocks) opening night.
Sealy compared playing the Rainbow Wahine — "I love them like family" — to a Serena vs. Venus Williams tennis match. He took much of the blame for his team’s slow start last night, but also admitted he was happy going 2-1.
"I had the team in paralysis by analysis, too much information," Sealy said of the first two sets. "They kind of forgot about just playing hard and with passion. They were over-thinking. So we came out in Game 3 and decided to just forget the scouting report and get after it. I thought we played better."
San Diego, ranked 22nd in the preseason, overcame Kansas State 22-25, 25-16, 25-22, 25-15 in the third-place match.
Hawaii now leads its series with UCLA 36-32, winning the last two years after the Bruins had built a four-match winning streak. UCLA has come here nearly every season since UH started its program in 1974. Its record in Hawaii is 60-32 — 40-5 against teams other than UH.
Florida, ranked 13th in the preseason, upset second-ranked Nebraska, 25-22, 25-22, 29-31, 13-25, 15-12 yesterday in the Runza/AVCA Showcase in Omaha, Neb. The Gators trailed 7-11 in the fifth. They upset ninth-ranked Iowa State on Saturday. Stephanie Ferrell, who transferred from Hawaii to Florida, appeared in one set and made one reception error.
No. 5 Hawaii def. No. 16 UCLA 25-22, 25-19, 18-25, 25-21
|Rainbow Wahine (3-0)|
Key — s: games; k: kills; e: hitting errors; att: attempts; pct: hitting percentage; d: digs; bs: block solo; ba: block assists; pts: points (kills plus blocks plus aces)
Aces — UCLA (2): Kidder, Sage. Hawaii (2): Hewitt 2. Service Errors — UCLA (10): Gera 2, Kidder 2, McGraw 2, Sage 2, Reeves, Van Orden. Hawaii (13): Ka’aihue 4, Mafua 4, Satele 2, Danielson, Griffiths, Hewitt. Assists — UCLA (48): Van Orden 42, Gera 3, Camp, Reeves, Smith. Hawaii (55): Mafua 44, Danielson 5, Ka’aihue 3, Uiato 3. T — 2:00. Officials — Ernest Ho, Denice Hansen. A — 5,029.