As season-opening volleyball tests go, last week had a little of everything for Hawaii, with the exception of a top-10 opponent. That comes this week, when 10th-ranked Southern California, New Mexico and Michigan State are at the Stan Sheriff Center for the 23rd annual Hawaiian Airlines Wahine Volleyball Classic.
Hawaiian Airlines Wahine Classic
The four teams have one loss — to third-ranked Stanford — among them. The Lobos and Spartans, who are both receiving votes in the Top 25, open the Classic this afternoon at 2. The match has no admission charge. The fourth-ranked Rainbow Wahine open against MSU tomorrow. It is the first time the teams have met since the Spartans ended Hawaii’s perfect season in 1995.
Last weekend was hardly perfect for the Wahine, but they were unbeaten and their roller-coaster ride over two ranked teams was not a surprise with three first-year starters.
If there had been a report card, seniors Elizabeth Ka’aihue and Dani Mafua and coach Dave Shoji would have given the offense a B-minus and the defense a B-plus. Issues of communication and leadership ranked relatively high.
"I think the chemistry was really good," Shoji said. "We got down the first night and no one hung their head. It was a very mature approach. That’s mainly Kanani (Danielson), Liz, Dani and Brittany (Hewitt). They are the ones that are strong, emotional leaders."
Passing, particularly with Emily Maeda’s solid assists to Danielson and Ka’aihue, ranked high. Specific areas of offense, especially serving and certain rotations, ranked low.
"Being aggressive as a server is a not a bad thing. That’s what we’re trying to go for — not be conservative," Mafua said. "At the same time, we have to be a lot more conscious of what we are doing."
Shoji was also disturbed at "bad misses" on the serve, but the struggles of his new players did not surprise or bother him.
Freshmen Michelle Waber and Emily Hartong and junior transfer Chanteal Satele passed their first test with alternately flying and floundering colors. Shoji wants more consistency from Satele and saw swift progress from Waber by Sunday. He believes in Hartong enough to say she will be part of a "very good" middle attack at "some point in the season." He also heaped praise on their attitudes.
The new players combined to average 6.3 kills a set — two more than Danielson — and hit a combined .161. That is probably 50 points from acceptable in the long run, and this week’s opponents will present more of a hitting challenge.
UCLA coach Mike Sealy, who recruited the freshmen when he coached here, said yesterday that he believes they will ultimately "be great," but now their focus has to catch up with that future.
With Satele roofing 12 balls in the opener, the new starters were in on about 2.5 blocks — half a stuff less than Hewitt, who set a rally-scoring record against San Diego. That big blocking night and the defense of Danielson and Ka’aihue might have been the brightest spots opening weekend, along with overcoming letdowns, and the atmosphere surrounding the team.
"We’re healthy. We’re all happy, we’re enthusiastic about the season," Shoji says. "Everything is good right now."
Even the adversity provided Hawaii with a challenge it knew it needed.
"We had to handle adversity big time," Ka’aihue said. "That’s a hostile crowd when we do something bad. It was huge for us to come back out of it.
"I’m excited we dealt with adversity so well."
Still, Mafua and Ka’aihue admit they will be searching for a comfort level for a while.
"We don’t even know how good we can be," Mafua shrugged, looking around the gym.