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Wahine face a familiar challenge

A ranked Pac-12 team. Another loaded with experienced foreign players. And a dangerous Mountain West squad. It feels like the movie “Groundhog Day” is replaying this week at the Stan Sheriff Center.

Swap uniform colors and nicknames and the schedule — minus the very odd noon match for Hawaii — and the look of the Outrigger Resorts Challenge (No. 25 UCLA, San Francisco and Utah State) isn’t much different from last week’s Hawaiian Airlines Classic (No. 22 Oregon, St. John’s and New Mexico).

There’s also a touch of “That ’70s Show” for those who remember the early years of the Rainbow Wahine program. Back in the day, UCLA, Utah State and Hawaii combined for four national titles out of six from 1974 to 1979, with the Rainbow Wahine finishing second three times, the Bruins second twice and the Aggies once, that to Hawaii in 1979.

Perhaps the rivalries aren’t as heated as they once were, but expect some rekindling this week.

After all, former Wahine associate coach Mike Sealy, in his fifth year at UCLA, is 2-2 against Hawaii. He is seven wins away from No. 100 and the next victory will be the 1,200th for the Bruins program.

And then there is Utah State coach Grayson Dubose, whose Aggies ruined UH’s senior night in 2007 with a sweep, the Wahine’s only conference loss that year. In 2010, Utah State stunned Hawaii in the WAC tournament final, snapping a number of impressive streaks: consecutive tournament titles won (10), consecutive tournament matches won (31), UH’s 23match WAC win streak and 62-set win streak.

“They’ve beaten us in the past,” Hawaii coach Dave Shoji said of Utah State. “He knows how to win and he knows how to beat us.”

In his ninth season, Dubose is looking forward to his team’s first trip to the islands since 2011, Hawaii’s last season in the WAC.

“What’s not to like? The most knowledgeable fans in the country and the most appreciative of good volleyball,” he said. “This is a really nice tournament for us to continue our growth as a team and a program. The competition is very good, with UCLA, USF and, of course, Hawaii.

“I have always enjoyed coming over there and competing. It is a great environment and I am looking forward to having our team gain that experience.”

A look at the tournament field:

NO. 22 HAWAII (4-2)

The Rainbow Wahine finished second in their second consecutive tournament and, for a second straight week, the loss was to a lower-ranked Pac-12 team. Junior middle Olivia Magill was named the Most Outstanding Player of last weekend’s Hawaiian Airlines Classic, a performance that included a program record for blocks in a four-set match with 12 against St. John’s. It was one of three rallyscoring marks for four-set matches, the others being sophomore setter Tayler Higgins’ eight aces against New Mexico and the team’s 40 block assists versus St. John’s. Magill also was named the Big West player of the week after averaging 3.38 kills and 1.92 blocks per set. Against the Red Storm she added 15 kills for her first double-double at UH, hitting .538. Junior hitter Tai Manu-Olevao was named to her second straight alltournament team last week. She put down a career-high 17 kills against New Mexico and leads the Wahine in kills (3.26 kps). Freshman hitter Kalei Greeley has continued to impress and, after moving into the starting lineup four matches ago, is third on the team in kills (2.41). Hawaii likely will be without sophomore hitter Nikki Taylor again (elbow on her hitting arm). She continues to be limited in practice, but began hitting from behind the 3-meter line this week. All 15 healthy Wahine have seen the court this season, including all eight freshmen. In the match against St. John’s, Hawaii had four freshmen in the lineup — Greeley, setter Kendra Koelsch, hitter Megan Huff and middle Emily Maglio. Hawaii is 42-9 against Utah State.

UTAH STATE (3-3)

The Aggies went 2-1 at the UC Irvine Invitational, getting edged by Pepperdine in the opener — their third straight loss going back to opening weekend — then rebounding with wins over Idaho (31) and the host Anteaters (3-2). The veteran team has five senior starters, the largest senior class since 1979, when the Aggies fell to the Wahine in five sets for the AIAW title. Senior middle blocker Kaitlyn VanHoff became USU’s career blockassist leader last weekend and has 423 coming into Thursday’s match. She has 445 career blocks and needs 32 to pass Denae Mohlman (19972000) to also lead that category. Senior libero Ashlan Rogers-Court is No. 3 in career digs (1,343). Senior hitter Rachel Orr leads the team in kills (3.93 kps) and senior setter Paige Neves is averaging 10.33 assists. The Aggies opened the season 1-2 in their new 1,400-seat home, Kirby Court at the Wayne Estes Center. They beat Idaho State (3-1), then lost to Oregon State (2-3) and Saint Mary’s (1-3).

NO. 25 UCLA (3-2)

The Bruins are used to opening the season on the road for the first three or four weeks, usually due to the school’s quarter system, which has them starting classes later in September. This season will be an even more nomadic existence after the July 29 water-main break on adjacent Sunset Boulevard damaged the floors of both home venues for volleyball: Pauley Pavilion and the John Wooden Center. Tuesday it was announced that the Bruins’ first four home matches will be held in Pepperdine’s Firestone Fieldhouse, 20 miles west of the UCLA campus. The first match in Westwood is scheduled for Oct. 15 against Oregon. As for their third of seven straight weeks on the road, this is the 39th consecutive season the Bruins are in Honolulu. Hawaii leads the series 37-34, with last year’s sweep the first win over UCLA since a four-setter in 2010. The Bruins rebounded from being swept at Loyola Marymount the opening weekend by splitting their matches in the Pac-12/Big Ten Challenge at Stanford. UCLA upset then-No. 9 Illinois in three on Friday then were swept by then-No. 1 Penn State on Saturday. UCLA’s offense runs through senior hitter Karsta Lowe, who was named the Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week on Monday. She put down 49 kills in the six sets at Maples Pavilion, hitting .344 with 13 digs, four aces and three blocks. Coming into the week, Lowe was leading the country in kills (7.07 kps) and points (8.07 pps). Against the Illini she finished with a careerhigh 29 kills and her third doubledouble of her career (10 digs). Three newcomers have made immediate impacts, including setter Julie Consani, who transferred after three seasons at Cal State Fullerton. Greek national Olga Strantzalii, a 6-1 freshman hitter, is second in kills (3.07 kps) and Reily Buechler, another 6-1 freshman hitter, is third (2.13 kps). Junior defensive specialist Rachel Inouye (Punahou ’12) has played in all 15 sets and is third in digs (1.47 dps).

SAN FRANCISCO (5-1)

The Dons saw their unbeaten season end last Saturday at Long Beach State, falling to the 49ers 2519, 25-21, 23-25, 25-13. Sophomore setter Kiara McKibben and senior middle Valentina Zaloznik were named to the all-tournament team, McKibben finishing with 106 assists and 25 digs, and Zaloznik 30 kills, 12 blocks and six aces. USF opened the season winning its own invitational, picking up victories over SMU (3-0), Fordham (3-0) and Georgia (3-1). The Dons added two victories at The Walter Pyramid — Campbell (3-1) and Army (3-0) — before losing to the hosts. USF has six foreign players out of 13, including Slovenian Zaloznik and senior opposite Anja Segota of Croatia, who are both averaging 3.24 kills. In his third season as assistant coach is former Rainbow Warrior Eyal Zimet, team captain and academic All-American as a senior. The Dons are 0-7 against the Wahine.

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