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Shoji happy with spring’s progress

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The Hawaii women’s volleyball team’s final spring exam came at the end of last month at USC’s Galen Center. Since nothing was at stake in the Trojans’ mini-tournament, Hawaii approached it as a pass/no pass class.

The Rainbow Wahine passed. That might be the best news to come out of the offseason.

Hawaii’s serve-receive was picked apart at the end of last year, when it counted most. It was tenuous early, held together by the exceptional talents of libero Elizabeth Ka‘aihue and All-America hitter Kanani Danielson. But when the Wahine lost the Western Athletic Conference championship for the first time since 1997, and failed to reach an NCAA regional for only the second time since the tournament expanded to 64 a year later, it was obvious they were not enough.

Servers from Utah State and Washington ripped holes in the Hawaii attack. Those pukas have to be fixed by August, when the Wahine open their 2011 season against San Francisco. UH will have to do it without Ka‘aihue and setter Dani Mafua, their 2010 seniors.

"We are still not as good as we need to be in the passing department," UH coach Dave Shoji says. "We have one great passer in Kanani. (Michelle) Waber and (Emily) Hartong took a lot of reps at that position in the spring and all the back-row people had a chance to get better in that area."

Hawaii split sets with USC, Long Beach State and Arizona at the spring tournament and swept Cal State Fullerton. The Wildcats will be here for the season-opening Chevron Rainbow Wahine Invitational, and the 49ers are in the Hawaiian Airlines Wahine Classic the next weekend. The Wahine play in Fullerton after this year’s WAC tournament, which was finalized last week. It was confirmed for Nov. 21-23 at Orleans Arena in Las Vegas.

The Women of Troy? Well, the split with them had the Wahine looking at themselves differently.

"I was surprised at how well it all came together, how competitive we were against USC," Emily Maeda said. "In practice, the passing hadn’t been too good."

The players said communication also made a leap in L.A., along with the hitters, who are adjusting to sophomore setter Mita Uiato.

There will be another major learning curve when the 2011 team gets together in three months. Hawaii has four freshman recruits and a wealth of walk-ons.

Shoji felt his team could have swept all its opponents in SoCal if he had not substituted, but that wasn’t the point. He wanted to see everyone, and convince himself they truly had progressed. He admitted taking the results "with a grain of salt" because all the opposing teams were without key ingredients; USC had both left-side hitters missing.

"I felt all our players progressed and did what they needed to do in the spring — get better individually, and stronger," Shoji said. "This is all pointing to the fall."

Shoji believes the most compelling difference this year will be numbers.

"I think we will have better depth for sure," he says. "We could have five middles, six outsides, at least two and possibly three or four setters, and probably half a dozen defensive specialists."

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