Sports Wahine banking on wild cards By Ann Miller Oct. 4, 2013 Mahalo for supporting Honolulu Star-Advertiser. Enjoy this free story! Read more Mahalo for reading the Honolulu Star-Advertiser! You're reading a premium story. Read the full story with our Print & Digital Subscription. Subscribe Now Read this story for free: Watch an ad or complete a survey Log In Already a subscriber? Log in now to continue reading this story. Activate Digital Account Print subscriber but without online access? Activate your Digital Account now. If you are a Hawaii volleyball fan, it is comforting to have seniors Mita Uiato, Emily Hartong and Ali Longo on your side. Night in, night out, you know what you are going to get. It is almost always ridiculously good. Then there are the wild cards, who probably hold the key to the sixth-ranked Rainbow Wahine’s season — this year and next. The four other starters are middles Jade Vorster and Kalei Adolpho, and hitters Tai Manu-Olevao and Nikki Taylor. The regular role players go at least seven deep beyond that. Even before the Big West season started last weekend, UH coach Dave Shoji was averaging 14 players a match. He used everybody available against Cal State Fullerton and UC Riverside. Hawaii set a school record with 21 consecutive points against the Titans — one off the NCAA mark. It allowed the Highlanders just 35 total points — three off its own record for a match. The Wahine (13-1), who have won their past 11, play tonight at Walter Pyramid in a nationally televised match with former tormenter Long Beach State (8-7). They play at UC Irvine (9-7) Saturday. The 49ers have mellowed since ending Hawaii’s season five times in the NCAA Regionals from 1989-94, but they gave UH all it could handle in SoCal last year. So did the Anteaters, who caught the Wahine as they were adjusting to the suspension of Jane Croson. It took a national-player-of-the-week performance from Hartong to silence the 49ers (33 kills) in four and Irvine (29 more) in five. The wild cards should have lots to say this weekend. The four starters — Adolpho, a junior, is the oldest — have shown signs of steadying out recently. Even better for Hawaii, they have hinted at greatness. Manu-Olevao was adjusting to the loss of her redshirt status when she last saw Long Beach. She is now hitting, passing and digging opposite Hartong, and clearly has grown more comfortable the past six matches. She averaged two kills and hit .139 her first six. Those numbers have soared to 3.2 and .254 since. "Tai needs to be confident in herself," says Uiato. "She’s really receptive. Whatever we tell her, she takes it and usually performs. If I tell her ‘you need to reach because there’s a big block,’ then she’ll reach and work around it. She doesn’t get in her own head. She’s very easy to work with and she’s always there for the team, always working hard." Taylor was still at Kaiser High School a year ago and had never played right side. The freshman was a surprise starter in the Wahine’s season-opening upset of defending national champion Texas and buried 10 kills. She did it again the following night, hitting .613. Her eyes were opened wide the next five matches and her hitting percentage plummeted more than 500 points. She rebounded against Northwestern and Arizona, floundered the first two nights and one set of the Shocker Classic, but is averaging five kills and hitting .577 her past seven sets. Taylor was 20-for-30 in a breakout performance against Fullerton. "It’s just power," Shoji said. "The angles she creates are not the same as a normal person. She’s 6-3 and has a pretty good vertical and a great arm. We’re working with her to get her feet to the ball. When she does that and makes high contact, she can be really good, obviously." The middles have been a mystery at times, since taking over last season. Offensively they can be erratic, which is also a function of the Hawaii passing. Defensively, they are not averaging two blocks a set combined — a problem. But when they get the ball, they have often been deadly. Vorster has hit .500 or better in half the matches but doesn’t have enough attempts to rank nationally (she would be 12th at .449). Adolpho has 71 more sets and is averaging nearly 21⁄2 kills but started slowly, hitting .318 the first five matches. She has hit nearly .500 the past nine, and is third in the conference at .411 (Taylor’s eighth at .329). RAINBOW WAHINE VOLLEYBALL >> Tonight: UH vs. Long Beach State, 5 p.m. at Long Beach, Calif. >> TV: Fox Sports West, Ch. 20 / 226 and Fox College Sports Central, Ch. 245 >> Radio: KKEA, 1420-AM "They run at different speeds," Uiato says. "It’s not hard to connect with Jade because I’ve been with her a while now, but I have to remind myself to set her a little differently. We kinda struggle sometimes, but she works hard and helps us with her blocking mainly. And, a lot of teams don’t expect me to go to her, so when I go to her she helps. "Kalei thinks a lot and is super athletic. We always tell her ‘you think too much, just do this and this and then you’re fine.’ Then she’ll do it and it will be a great hit. She just needs to relax more and remember certain things that help her in the game. I need to constantly talk to her. She’s gotten a lot better since summer. I think she will be so good as we go on throughout the year." Shoji believes they have all improved immensely — just in the past two weeks. "The next couple weeks, if they continue to play consistently, they won’t be wild cards," he says. "They will be pretty solid and the team will be better." NOTES Hawaii has won its past 75 regular-season conference matches, the longest current streak in the country. Its last loss was in 2008. The Wahine are 20-0 since returning the Big West last year. They have a 39-match winning streak in the BWC, dating from the last match of 1994 through their unbeaten 1995 season. Previous Story High school football scoreboard Next Story Yankees star sues MLB and commissioner, citing 'witch hunt'