Perhaps it wasn’t a huge surprise that it would be an all-Hawaii final Saturday at Queen’s Beach. After all, it WAS the Rainbow Wahine Invitational sand tournament and the No. 5 SandBows had gone 3-0 in Friday’s dual play, topping No. 3 Long Beach State, No. 10 Stanford and unranked Loyola Marymount.
The surprise may have been in how UH’s No. 1 and 2 teams ended up playing each other for early bragging rights, given that there were 22 other pairs of nearly equal talent. The only thing that was a given was there would be at least one Hawaii pair in the championship with one all-Hawaii semifinal.
UH No. 2 Katie Spieler and Nikki Taylor advanced via a sweep of UH No. 3 Ginger Long and Ali Longo, 21-14, 21-18.
On the other court, UH’s No. 1 pair of Brittany Tiegs and Karissa Cook were up against the dynamic and successful Long Beach State duo of Tyler Jackson and Janisa Johnson. The 49ers pair had gone 25-0 last season, when Long Beach State won the AVCA national championship.
"We just want to beat everybody we play," said Cook, a Stanford transfer playing as a graduate student. "We knew what they had done last season. They’re so quick and fast. Right now, I don’t remember much of what happened."
What happened was Tiegs an All-American at Florida State in 2012 who sat out last season after transferring and Cook held off six set points in Set 1 en route to a 27-25, 21-17 semifinal victory. Cook would be named the invitational’s top blocker after she and Tiegs held off Spieler and Taylor 21-14, 21-19.
It was another impressive show by the SandBows, who had four of their six pairs reach the quarterfinals. The run included UH No. 5 Karlee Riggs-Hannah Rooks upsetting Long Beach State No. 1 Delainey Aigner-Swesey and Bojana Todorvic in a 32-30, 13-21, 23-21 marathon match.
Spieler also took home the best defender award. Johnson of the 49ers was named the offensive player of the tournament and Loyola Marymount’s Avery Bush was given the "Spirit of Aloha" award.
"I think what this shows is the growth of our program and how hard everyone has worked," said Ali Longo. "It’s fun to see all the UH teams do so well."
"It is a big deal to have an all-UH final," Long added, "because there are some really good teams here. Just look at our No. 5 team beating Long Beach’s No. 1. Everyone’s been doing awesome."
UH coach Scott Wong said he couldn’t ask for a better showing on the opening weekend. The SandBows gained confidence as well as some insight into what they need to work on this week before leaving for the AVCA Collegiate Sand Tournament in Chula Vista, Calif., next weekend.
"I think for me I was more surprised that we had two teams in the final, not that both of them made it, but because of how many good teams there were here," Wong said. "Having three of four teams in the semifinals is a good indicator that we’re doing good things.
"We also know we’ve got to get better, and having a tournament like that helps. We got to play other teams, have real matches with real refs. I’m happy with how it went."
As for the signature win by Tiegs and Cook over Johnson and Jackson, "There is no other team like them (Johnson and Jackson) in the country," Wong said. "They are fast and athletic. But we did start serving them deep and that changes the timing."
The deep serves slowed down the 49ers’ attack and allowed for Cook, especially, to set up a solid block. The Wahine, trailing 20-19 in Set 1, got a kill by Cook to hold off the first set point and tie it at 20.
Hawaii tied it five more times, the last at 25. With Tiegs again serving, she dug a hard shot and then pounded a kill off a set from Cook for the Wahine’s first set point. They would not need another. Cook blocked Johnson to end it.
Set 2 was tight until a 3-0 serving run by Cook put Hawaii up 17-14. Tiegs went to the deep serve again and also had three kills to take control at 20-15.
The 49ers closed to 20-17, but Cook put down aloha ball.