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Wahine volleyball in search of leadership

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    Mita Uiato is Hawaii's only setter until Monica Stauber arrives in August.

For a few hours yesterday morning you could watch every women’s collegiate volleyball player on Oahu in a practice gym at the University of Hawaii. But what was probably most striking about the Rainbow Wahine was what you could hear.

Very little.

When Aneli Cubi-Otineru’s eligibility ended at the 2009 NCAA final four, a huge part of Hawaii’s voice went with her. When she spoke, people listened because they knew they would learn from her encouragement and criticism. Elizabeth Ka’aihue’s relentlessly upbeat personality picked up some of the slack last season, when Hawaii went 28-3 but missed the regionals for only the second time in 13 years.

The Wahine dominated yesterday’s offseason training tournament with Hawaii Pacific, Brigham Young-Hawaii and Chaminade. They got great looks at those who will try to fill the Asics sneakers of Ka’aihue and senior setter Dani Mafua. But even Hall of Fame coach Dave Shoji noticed the decibel level was down dramatically.

Between now and August, when four freshmen will meet up with their new teammates in Manoa, Hawaii has to find its voice. Cubi-Otineru’s was truly missed last season. Ka’aihue’s loss will leave another cone of silence, and losing a three-year starter at setter is always a shock to a team’s system.

"Liz was always helping; Dani ran the court," said freshman Mita Uiato, the only setter UH has on its roster until Monica Stauber arrives in August. "Everybody needs to step up. Everybody be a leader, talk to each other. It is a major loss.

"Our voice now is usually Kanani (Danielson). She’s been leading us. I need to step up because I’m a setter. Whoever is the libero needs to be really active and vocal."

Danielson is a three-time All-American and captain. She can talk, a lot, but is still soft-spoken. Chanteal Satele, Alexis Forsythe and Alex Griffiths, also seniors in the fall, are all quiet.

"I don’t think you can point to any one person," Shoji said. "It’s got to come naturally to somebody. I’m hoping Brit (Hewitt) can give us a little more leadership. Between Brit and Kanani, I think the leadership is going to come from them. The others are too young or too quiet. They’ve all got to get more vocal."

What Shoji saw yesterday was a mixture of dominance and dropoff. Kristiana Tuaniga, fighting for a spot in the middle opposite Hewitt, collected 11 stuffs in the three mini-matches. Emily Maeda, near the top of a long list at libero, gathered 18 digs.

But the Wahine dropped a set to BYUH. The Seasiders, who earned the PacWest’s NCAA automatic bid last season, had just seven players and were blitzed by HPU. BYUH had two recruits from Taiwan, sent to Laie by career kills leader Yu Chuan Weng, watching on the sideline.

The Sea Warriors led D-II in digs last year and looked like they could do it again behind second-team All-American Kyra Pelayo. But they struggled to terminate.

Chaminade simply struggled, with "nine players that all play the same position," according to coach Nahaku Brown. She expects nine new faces, at different positions, in August.

Hewitt, a second-team All-American who led the country in blocking last year, sat out with a sore back. Coaches got a long look at Tuaniga, Forsythe and 6-foot-5 Jade Vorster, a freshman already enrolled in school.

Emily Hartong, last year’s other middle, only played outside. She and Michelle Waber played extensively in the back row, which they didn’t do last fall. Libero candidates Maeda, Griffiths and Kristina Kam, back from knee surgery, rotated. Satele and Kaela Goodman split time on the right.

Uiato played every moment.

"We need to give Mita as many game reps as possible," Shoji said. "Mita is going to be fine. She just needs to tighten everything up. She’s got the ability. She sets the ball at the tempo we want to set it. … She can flick it out there. She’s just got to be more consistent."

Chaminade’s Brown, an All-America setter for UH in 1981, was not nearly as critical. "I love her hands," she said without hesitation. Uiato also impressed with her strength and speed, collecting 17 digs.

"The greatest challenge is trying to meet the standards that Dani left," Uiato said. "I learned a lot from her. She gave me a lot of tips. Just seeing her work ethic last year is an outline for me to fill out."

The Wahine continue individual workouts and close offseason training in Los Angeles. They will scrimmage UCLA and play a tournament at USC next month. The 2011 season opener is Aug. 26 against San Francisco.

Nonconference matches against Pepperdine in September, originally listed as being in California, are now here. The final schedule will be out after the Western Athletic Conference finalizes its football schedules.


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