Ferd Lewis: Rainbow Wahine volleyball team out to maintain a remarkable UH streak
Even without the home court sweep, the Rainbow Wahine could likely go as an at-large choice, given their impressive body of work to date.
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In 1993, while they were still learning their way around the Manoa campus as freshmen, Robyn Ah Mow and Angelica Ljungqvist became among the progenitors of what has grown into the most remarkable streak in University of Hawaii athletic history.
Today, as coaches, they are caretakers of a string of excellence with few equals in NCAA volleyball annals.
If the 18th-ranked Rainbow Wahine (22-3, 12-2 Big West) win out this weekend at the Stan Sheriff Center — tonight against Cal State Northridge (12-15, 7-8) and Friday versus Long Beach State (12-15, 9-6) — they will be assured the school’s 27th consecutive NCAA tournament berth.
Even without the home court sweep, the Rainbow Wahine could likely go as an at-large choice, given their impressive body of work to date. But the automatic bid as Big West champions would be a much more fitting exclamation point to their streak.
Think about that postseason endurance for a moment. That’s a generation of high level consistency across two conference memberships, two head coaching tenures and amid a much changed Division I landscape that predates the opening of the Sheriff Center.
If not for the aberration that was the 1992 season, the Rainbow Wahine would have been party to every women’s volleyball tournament in NCAA history. Only that 15-12 (11-7 Big West) hiccup in ’92 has kept UH from attending all 38 tournaments.
Just two schools, Stanford and Penn State have appeared in all 38 NCAA tournaments. And, only five — Stanford, Penn State, Nebraska, Florida and USC — have longer unbroken appearance streaks than UH.
The NCAA was a bit of a late comer to the Title IX era, beginning its women’s volleyball championship in 1981, nine years after the passage of what is now known as the Patsy Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act.
If you include the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW) championship, the forerunner to the NCAA tournament, UH has appeared in 44 of the last 45 championship tournaments across three head coaching tenures and won four of them.
Perpetuation of the NCAA streak has been dicey at times. As recently as the middle of last month things were looking perilous for the Wahine, who had lost to UC Irvine and struggled to beat Cal State Fullerton at the Stan Sheriff Center and gotten swept by Cal Poly. But they have since reeled off eight consecutive victories to put their fate firmly in their hands this week.
In fact, the previous two years, when Cal Poly rose up to take the Big West titles and automatic berths that go with them, things were touch and go for a while until at-large bids were awarded. But the Wahine, by playing competitive non-conference schedules, have managed to maintain a reputation and earn an at-large invitation.
That’s been no easy task given how the influence and muscle in the NCAA has shifted to the more well-heeled Power 5 conferences that now dominate the host opportunities and the at-large selections.
The days when UH or, indeed, any non-Power 5 conference third-place team could expect an NCAA invitation are rare if not extinct.
Which makes what the Rainbow Wahine are heir to all the more precious this week.
Reach Ferd Lewis at email@example.com or 529-4820.