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No. 5 Wahine carve up Aggies

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BRUCE ASATO / BASATO@STARADVERTISER.COM
UH's Kanani Danielson notched 11 kills and three aces during the match against New Mexico State yesterday.

There was a little scare at the end, but hey, it was Halloween. Fifth-ranked Hawaii gave New Mexico State more nightmares last night, blasting the Western Athletic Conference’s next-best volleyball team, 25-18, 25-10, 25-23.

Despite the second-set debacle, the Aggies (15-10, 9-2 WAC) scored more points than they did against the Rainbow Wahine (21-1, 11-0) in Las Cruces, N.M., a month ago.

That and some tenacity in Sets 1 and 3 were about all they could feel good about in front of 3,672 at the Stan Sheriff Center.

"We did a little better job blocking and digging than last time, so we see some improvement, but obviously closing the gap all the way from four weeks ago is pretty impossible to do," said NMSU coach Mike Jordan, whose team came in with a seven-match winning streak. "But we’re a little better than we were, and we competed better."

The Wahine could say the same, and they were a bunch better than the Aggies last time. UH out-hit New Mexico State .384-.140 last night and won every statistical category.

"Everybody just had that focused mentality that we’re trying to shoot for every time," UH junior Kanani Danielson said. "We’re showing it little by little and hopefully we’ll get it to a full match by postseason."

UH got blocked this time — NMSU did not have a block at home — but never was threatened, even when the Aggies erased four match points to close to 24-23.

Hawaii simply set Danielson, and she carved her 11th kill inside the block.

"We know that ball is going to get set to her on game point, and we got two big blockers in front her," Jordan said. "She’s got the ability and courage to rip that thing inside of us and hit it at 8 feet sharp cross. How many people can do that? A lot of players are afraid to hit that sharp angle. Not her. She goes for it."

The Aggies could not say the same. Jordan questioned his team’s "emotional stability," leadership and will to win. UH coach Dave Shoji pointed to their lack of balance and consistent passing, and unfamiliarity with a new system NMSU debuted last night.

Looking to end Hawaii’s streaks — its last 16 matches, 36 conference matches and 41 sets — the Aggies came out in a 6-2 offense. Kahuku graduate Amanda Tonga started on the right side and Hawaii Pacific transfer Madison Hardy came in for her to set from the back row.

NMSU had all three offensive options in the front row all night and forced UH to "throw the scouting report out," but still hit just .140. The Wahine handled the two-setter offense without missing a beat, or another WAC beating.

Defensively, the Aggies had no real answer for anyone with a green costume. The UH middles went wild again, going 15-for-21 (.714) behind sophomore Brittany Hewitt’s 8-for-11. In two matches against NMSU, the Hawaii middles (Hewitt, Emily Hartong and Alexis Forsythe) are 31-for-39 (.795) without an error.

"They definitely know where Kanani is and put two people up there," Shoji said. "But Emily is finding little seams, and Brittany is going over. It’s not that they are ignoring them, it’s just our hitters are doing a nice job either hitting over or around the block."

For most of the opening set, the only difference was an early 7-1 Hawaii surge that created separation at 12-8. The run was fueled by the serving of Emily Maeda and Hewitt, and an Aggie passing meltdown that would come back to haunt them in the second set.

It ended with three NMSU hitting errors by seniors Whitney Woods and Kayleigh Giddens, who had four kills but hit negative for the set and was at .000 after two. The reigning WAC player of the week still finished with a match-high 12 kills.

The Aggies’ frustration snowballed from there, just as it did in Las Cruces a month ago. The Wahine blew to a 17-5 advantage in the second set with pretty much everyone raining kills and aces on the other side.

At the break, this was the equivalent of the 31-3 halftime advantage Hawaii held on the football field Saturday. The final set was closer, but it was only a matter of time.

NMSU, which has been second to Hawaii the past four years and gone to five of the last seven NCAA tournaments, now has more losses than in any year since 2001.

The Wahine play Louisiana Tech today at 7 p.m.

 

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