It wasn’t planned this way, but Reed Sunahara finds himself on the “Greatest Wahine Volleyball Players Tour.”
Last Friday, the West Virginia coach was at San Diego State, his Mountaineers playing against the Aztecs coached by Deitre Collins-Parker. Collins-Parker (1980-83) was a three-time All-American, twice the National Player of the Year and the Broderick Cup winner as the top female collegiate athlete in the country.
On Thursday, Sunahara will see double at the Stan Sheriff Center. West Virginia (4-2) faces No. 18 Hawaii (6-0) in the Outrigger Resorts Challenge, the Rainbow Wahine coached by two-time All-American Robyn Ah Mow and associate head coach Angelica Ljungqvist, the program’s first four-time All-American and the 1996 National Player of the Year.
“This was not the plan,” said Sunahara, a Hilo High graduate who won three NCAA titles playing for UCLA. “I knew I wanted to bring my team out to Hawaii at some point. Robyn and I started talking after last year and I said put us on the list.”
Just like that, the Mountaineers are making their first trip to Hawaii. Sunahara also sees his alma mater in Friday’s first match when West Virginia meets UCLA (3-2).
“It’s always weird playing your alma mater and it’s weird that I coached Mike (Bruins coach Sealy) when I was an assistant at UCLA,” said Sunahara, in his fifth year in Morgantown. “There’s mixed emotions, but after it’s all done, we’re still friends.”
Sunahara brought his Cincinnati team to Honolulu three previous times and didn’t take a set off the Wahine in the three tournaments. The Bearcats did, however, nearly upset the No. 10 Bruins in the 2005 Waikiki Beach Marriott Challenge, eventually falling in five.
He expects this week’s tournament to be equally challenging, beginning with Thursday’s match with the Wahine.
“Hawaii’s really good,” Sunahara said. “They’re playing well, playing with a lot of confidence.
“It’s a unique system, the 6-2 (two setters), the setters going in for middles, and the libero not playing much. They’re always attacking. I need to watch a little more film.”
The one Wahine Sunahara would like to slow down is junior hitter Jolie Rasmussen. The 6-foot-2 transfer from Oregon leads Hawaii in kills (4.05 kps) and solo blocks (seven), has reached double-figure kills in all but one match, has three double-doubles (kills-digs) and was the National Player of the Week after the Wahine opened 3-0.
“If we can pass, we can put a little more pressure on Hawaii,” Sunahara said. “If we can’t pass, then it’s going to be an easy night for Hawaii.
“My philosophy is we have to play better teams to be better. That’s why we’re here. And we’ll be playing in front of the great Hawaii crowd.
“The kids we’re getting want to help build a program. They want to make history.”
West Virginia has never appeared in the NCAA tournament but did play in two NIVC tournaments (1991, 2017). The program began the same year as Hawaii: 1974.
A look at the field:
West Virginia (4-2)
The Mountaineers are on the road for the third straight week, crossing the country from the East Coast (Delaware) to the West Coast (California) to the Far West (Hawaii). West Virginia opened on a four-match win streak, taking the Delaware Classic and its first match in the San Diego State/San Diego Tournament.
The Mountaineers bring a two-match losing streak to the Stan Sheriff Center after dropping a 3-2 contest to the host Aztecs and a four-set match to Arizona.
Sophomore middle Kristina Jordan, one of six returning starters, leads the team in kills (79) and had a career-high 30 kills in the loss to San Diego State. Junior middle blocker Briana Lynch was named the MVP of the season-opening Delaware Classic, finishing with 29 kills and five blocks.
Utah Valley (2-5)
The Wolverines went 0-3 at the BYU Invitational and 2-1 in their tournament last week. Three of UVU’s losses have been to ranked teams: Marquette, BYU and Utah, all coming via sweeps. UVU also lost 3-1 at Idaho State.
The Wolverines are coming off their best season in Sam Atoa’s 20 years (20-14), earning their first postseason bid (NIVC).
Senior middle Jasmine Niutupuiwaha (Kahuku) was named to the all-tournament team last week, finishing with 15 total blocks. Three blocks came in a sweep of UC Davis, and she had 14 kills and seven blocks in the reverse sweep of Portland State.
Also on the roster is sophomore defensive specialist Petaia Ofeira (Kalani) who played last season at Franklin Pierce.
It was a brutal opening weekend for the Bruins in Nebraska’s Devaney Center, as they were swept by both new No. 5 Baylor and the No. 2 Cornhuskers. UCLA rebounded to win last week’s Long Beach State Invitational, sweeping Georgia, Texas State and the host Beach.
Junior hitter Mac May was named last week’s tournament MVP and was joined on the all-tourney team by senior hitter Savvy Simo and sophomore Kelli Barry.
Sophomore Hawley Harrer, sharing setting time with sophomore Devon Chang, is the daughter of former Rainbow Warrior Tom Harrer and beach hall of famer Janice Harrer.
A 13-14 season in 2018 had UCLA sitting out the NCAA tournament for just the second time in program history.
Coach Mike Sealy is in his 10th season in Westwood, taking the job at his alma mater following four seasons as associate head coach for Dave Shoji at Hawaii.