The trend in volleyball continues to grow with taller and taller players. But the game will always hinge on defense and the somewhat oxymoronic concept of “smalls” playing big.
To that end, No. 25 UCLA’s “smalls” — the defensive specialists — frustrated No. 17 Hawaii for over two hours Sunday when winning the 28th Hawaiian Airlines Classic volleyball tournament.
2015 Hawaiian Airlines Wahine Volleyball Classic
Most Outstanding Player
As a season-high 7,436 (8,667 tickets) watched at the Stan Sheriff Center, the Bruins (4-1) out-dug the Rainbow Wahine (5-1) 73-58 to pull out a 25-16, 25-27, 25-17, 28-26 victory. UCLA went back home with its 10th HAC tournament trophy, the Most Outstanding Player award in junior hitter Jordan Anderson, and all-tournament selection in sophomore hitter Reily Buechler.
The loss sends Hawaii back to the drawing board, where Rainbow Wahine coach Dave Shoji, who came out of fall camp with a set idea of a lineup, says every position is back open. Hawaii has a short week to tweak with the Outrigger Resorts Challenge beginning its three-day run on Thursday, including seeing No. 4 Florida on Friday.
“If you look at the stats, it was more us than them,” junior setter Tayler Higgins. “We need to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
“This will give us motivation. We’re better than how we played tonight.”
Hawaii showed grit when holding off four match points to rally from 24-20 to take set point at 25-24, and again at 26-25. It showed its vulnerability when being unable to close it out and force Set 5 as the Bruins used three straight blocks to end it and end the Wahine’s five-match home winning streak.
“Defense, it was our game plan,” said UCLA coach Mike Sealy, the former UH associate head coach. “We knew no block was going to stop Nikki (junior hitter Taylor) and we went with our ‘smalls’ in the back.
“UH is a lot like us, with a lot of good pieces but looking for that consistency.”
As Taylor went, so did Hawaii. She and sophomore hitter Kalei Greeley combined for 2 kills and 6 errors on 21 swings and didn’t get out of negative hitting until late with Taylor finishing with 16 kills, hitting .205, and Greeley 8 kills, hitting .041.
This was the first time this season that Hawaii gave up major runs of points, including the swing Set 3, where an 8-6 lead turned into a 12-8 deficit. The Wahine never fully recovered as Shoji switched setters (Kendra Koelsch for Higgins), switched middles (Annie Mitchem for Emily Maglio) and switched left-side hitters a couple of times (McKenna Granato for Tai Manu-Olevao then Casey Castillo and back to Manu-Olevao).
But the biggest issue was continually being thwarted by the Bruins’ s defense, where four UCLA players were in double-digit digs, led by freshman setter Zana Muno’s 20 and 16 by libero Taylor Formico. Defensive specialist Rachel Inouye (Punahou) added 14 and 11 by Buechler, who finished with a match-high 18 kills.
Also named to the all-tournament team were Wahine Taylor and Greeley, Iowa’s Lauren Brobst and Loxley Keala, and Allison Cappellino from American.
“I don’t think this is something you get past,” said Taylor, who added 15 digs and was pressed into being part of the passing formation in Set 4. “It’s something you take and learn from. I want to take away positives.
“We knew as a team we could come back and we did. We held off those game points, we held off a good team and even if we didn’t win, we learned that we could do it. There’s a lot of reflection that is going to come out of this.”
Shoji said he was very frustrated, not with the loss, but that the same players kept making the same mistakes.
“It’s disappointing but it’s not the end of the world,” he said. “They’re very good team, played unbelievable defense.
“I thought the ball was down a dozen times. We got a little impatient. When your best shot is dug, the next time you either get blocked or hit out. Our players got frustrated with their defense.”
UCLA narrowed the gap in the series to 38-37. The teams have played every year since the Wahine program began in 1974.
In what was a true third-place match, Iowa came back to beat American, 25-15, 21-25, 25-22, 25-19.
Iowa 3, American 1
Junior hitter Lauren Brobst put down 16 kills and sophomore libero Annika Olsen had 22 digs as the Hawkeyes (3-4) down the Eagles (3-4). Junior setter Loxley Keala (‘Iolani) finished with her second double-double of the tournament (46 assists-13 digs).
Freshman hitter Aleksandra Kazala led American with 12 kills and 13 digs, and senior opposite Kristyna Lindovska added 10 kills. Freshman middle Mary Smith was in on seven of the team’s 12 blocks and sophomore libero Hoakalei Dawson (‘Iolani) had four digs.
NO. 25 UCLA DEF. NO. 17 HAWAII 25-16, 25-27, 25-17, 28-26
|RAINBOW WAHINE (5-1)|
Key — s: games; k: kills; e: hitting errors; att: attempts; pct: hitting percentage; d: digs; bs: block solo; ba: block assists; pts: points (kills plus blocks plus aces).
Service Aces — UCLA 5 (Inouye 2, Drolson, Formico, Frager). Hawaii 4 (Taylor 2, Granato, Kahakai). Service errors — UCLA 5 (Muno 2, Buechler, Drolson, Frager). Hawaii 9 (Higgins 3, Granato 2, Anderson, Greeley, Kahakai, Taylor). Assists — UCLA 52 (Muno 42, Formico 3, Buechler 2, Drolson 2, Anderson, Inouye, Lawless). Hawaii 44 (Higgins 32, Koelsch 7, Kahakai 4, Granato). T — 2:05. Officials — Ernest Ho, Wayne Lee. A — 7,436.