Few get to experience the wild diversity of the Western Athletic Conference. Some are thankful, but not nearly as enlightened.
Fifth-ranked Hawaii’s first road trip of the volleyball season took it to New Mexico State and Louisiana Tech last week. The Rainbow Wahine (14-1, 4-0 WAC) spent more than 17 hours in a plane, another 12 in the car and 2 hours and 49 minutes sweeping the Aggies and Techsters.
On the drive from Dallas to Shreveport, La., UH coach Dave Shoji swore he saw camels, buffaloes and ostriches. It took him two days, when the sighting was confirmed on the return trip, to convince his team he wasn’t hallucinating.
"I did see it on the way up," team manager Hedder Ilustre said. "I didn’t want to say anything because it was just too funny with them thinking he was making something up."
Shoji also had the unique "cultural experience" of eating at Waffle House. The ubiquitous 24/7 Southeast diner offers most anything "smothered and covered" and has served an average of 117 orders of grits a minute the last 55 years.
After all that excitement, this rare midseason off week is a time to rest and rev it up again. The Wahine were back at practice yesterday after four days off. Dani Mafua and Kanani Danielson rested their aching, over-used knees while teammates focused on fundamentals.
"We haven’t been in the gym since Friday night," Shoji said yesterday. "To me that’s the break. We are relatively healthy. We went hard today and we’ll go hard tomorrow, scrimmage Friday and next week is a normal game week."
WAC VOLLEYBALL SCHEDULE
Hawaii doesn’t play until next Friday, when San Jose State (7-11, 2-3) comes in. The Spartans were swept at Idaho on Monday and host NMSU and LaTech this weekend. SJSU, which won just once all last year, upset Utah State last week.
"They got my attention," Shoji said. "It’s a lot like college football, where if you don’t bring your ‘A’ game you’re going to have a chance to lose."
That has happened to Hawaii only six times since it joined the WAC in 1996, and not since Oct. 12, 2008. Since Illinois ended Penn State’s 65-match Big Ten winning streak Sept. 24, and IPFW ended North Dakota State’s streak of 42 last week, the Rainbow Wahine have the longest active (regular-season) conference winning streak in the country at 29.
That has little impact on anyone outside the WAC, apparently. When UCLA was here, getting beat by UH the first week of the season, one of its administrators was telling someone on the mainland that "Hawaii plays USC next week and nobody else the rest of the season."
Shoji and the Wahine don’t even acknowledge those statements anymore. They are so focused inward, they barely hear them.
"We mostly focus on the other team only the day before a match," Mafua says. "We’re trying to get better as a team and find the right chemistry because come postseason we don’t know who we play."
Adds Ilustre, who is from Southern California, "We go over a scouting report on the other team the day before a match. Before that, it’s what can we do to make ourselves better this practice and next practice. We can’t do what we need to do against other teams if we don’t focus on ourselves."
Other WAC coaches have more trouble being characterized as "nobody else." Mike Jordan, in his 13th year coaching NMSU, has lost to Hawaii in the last four WAC tournament finals, and been to five of the last seven NCAA tournaments.
"It’s bothersome to me to hear that because most years we have a pretty good team and I know Hawaii respects us," he says. "That’s Pac-10 arrogance. Those are a lot of those same people who won’t play us."
The Aggies are 94th in the NCAA’s first power ranking of the season, released this week. Utah State, after the SJSU loss, is 87th and Hawaii 11th. Boise State (105), Nevada (127) and Fresno State (152) are next, followed by Idaho (181), SJSU (189) and LaTech, which is 219th out of 328 Division I programs.
The top three are Florida, ranked second by the coaches, third-ranked Nebraska and sixth-ranked Illinois.
» Idaho senior Kelsey Taylor is the WAC player of the week. She hit .439 in two matches against Boise State last week, averaging two kills and two blocks a set. Hewitt was the Wahine’s nominee after hitting .842 and averaging 3.2 kills. Hewitt set a UH rally-scoring record when she hit .917 (11-for-12) at NMSU.
» Hewitt still leads the country in blocking, at 1.77 per set, and is 27th in hitting percentage (.386). Danielson is 12th nationally in kills (4.53). Danielson (1,057) and Saint Francis graduate Kylie Harrington (1,038) of Nevada are 1-2 in career kills among active WAC players.
» Hawaii remains No. 1 nationally in attendance after its first week on the road. UH averaged 6,186 fans during its 13-match, season-opening homestand. Nebraska is second, at 5,401. Wisconsin (3,720), Penn State (3,705) and Florida (3,137) are the only others averaging more than 3,000.
» In WAC matches only, the Wahine are outhitting opponents .297 to .118 and senior libero Elizabeth Ka’aihue is averaging a league-high 5.75 digs.