On the road again.
The most-traveled team in collegiate women’s volleyball hits the air Tuesday as No. 18 Hawaii (26-3) makes its fifth trip to the mainland this season, this time its farthest when heading to Madison, Wis. The 12th-seeded Rainbow Wahine, advancing to the NCAA tournament’s third round for the first time since 2015, will be greeted by sub-freezing temperatures and the prospect of facing last season’s national runner-up Nebraska (27-4).
Both teams arrive having won their respective subregionals when playing at home, Hawaii advancing via Saturday’s 25-23, 25-21, 25-21 sweep of No. 20 San Diego at the Stan Sheriff Center, and the sixth-ranked Huskers holding off unranked Missouri at the Bob Devaney Sports Center, 20-25, 25-20, 32-30, 25-18.
Both arrive knowing they will need to create their own energy in the arena after again finishing 1-2 in national attendance. The two subregionals had the top two two-day crowds out of 32 (based on tickets issues) with 16,295 in Lincoln, Neb., and 15,866 in Honolulu.
>> Photo Gallery: Women’s volleyball: Hawaii vs. San Diego
Sweet 16 host Wisconsin was third, selling out the 7,052-seat UW Field House both nights. No question there will be a lot of red this week in the stands.
“I don’t think travel will affect our girls,” third-year coach Robyn Ah Mow said after the Wahine needed just 101 minutes to win their 13th straight with their 10th sweep on Saturday. “I think they’re just ready to go. Everybody’s hungry, making it this far.
“We haven’t made it this far since 2015 so I think they will be pumped.”
None of the current Wahine was on that squad four years ago, which not only got to Des Moines, Iowa, for the third round but made it to the fourth after sweeping Penn State, losing to Minnesota 3-1 in the elite eight. Coincidentally, it was also Ah Mow’s last season as Dave Shoji’s assistant; she and her family moved to Las Vegas before she returned to replace her mentor at her alma mater in 2017.
On Saturday, Hawaii led for most of the contest against USD, a rematch of the season opener won by the Wahine in five. There was only one lead change in both of the first two sets — Hawaii going ahead for good at 5-4 in Sets 1 and 2 — there were five changes in the tighter Set 3, which had eight ties.
Down 14-13, senior setter Bailey Choy served the Wahine into the lead with a 4-0 run that included the last of her match-high three aces. Hawaii continued to use a balanced attack over the final 37 minutes, all six attackers with at least two kills. Freshman hitter Hanna Hellvig had four of her match-high 12 kills, senior hitter McKenna Ross four of her 10 and junior hitter Jolie Rasmussen four after entering the match for the first time when Hawaii trailed 7-6.
“We are ready,” said Hellvig, the Big West Freshman of the Year. “We have nothing to lose.”
The fans remained in the arena Saturday night, chanting “Let’s Go ’Bows” long after Hellvig put down the final kill. The Swedish national acknowledged what the support has meant.
“I feel like we do it together, every person in the crowd,” she said. “Having all that sound around you, you are just locked in and it’s amazing.”
It was just the second time this season that San Diego, the West Coast Conference champion, had been swept. The first was at Pepperdine on Oct. 24; the Toreros won their next 10 before running into a focused Wahine team.
“First and foremost, Hawaii played fantastic tonight,” USD coach Jennifer Petrie said. “They were a formidable opponent for sure and it felt like we were playing six against 10,000. That kind of atmosphere is an incredible home-court advantage.
“I wish more teams could have that experience. The fans are so uplifting and it’s exciting to play in front of and friendly. It’s just electric in there and you can feel the energy, unfortunately (it was all) for Hawaii while you’re playing. But it’s a tremendous volleyball atmosphere and it’s fun to play in.”
The only statistic the Toreros led was digs, finishing with a 53-51 advantage, led by sophomore libero Annie Benbow’s 11. Wahine graduating libero Rika Okino “was a vacuum,” Ah Mow said, with the Kalani High product finishing with a match-high 20, her 12th match in double digits this year.
Hawaii freshman middle Amber Igiede helped set the tone of the match, putting down her first six kills in Set 1 and finishing with nine. It had USD needing to honor the middle attack by the Wahine, which opened things up for Hawaii’s outsides, often creating one-on-one or one-on-none situations.
“I think it’s such a fun time of the season,” Igiede, a Louisiana native, said. “This is the best part so we just want to go out and go hard.
“I think as a team we have worked so hard to get to this point that we wouldn’t want to let something like travel dictate how we play or have excuses like that.”
Hawaii outhit USD .277-.185, the seventh straight match that the Wahine have held an opponent to under .200. Senior setter-hitter Norene Iosia had her 19th double-double of the season, 63rd of her career, with 24 assists and 12 digs. It was the 21st time that Hellvig was in double-digit kills and the sixth straight match with 10-plus for Ross.
Hawaii has made all but one NCAA tournament, missing in 1992. Only Nebraska and Stanford have made all 39.
NCAA WOMEN’S VOLLEYBALL TOURNAMENT
At Madison, Wis., Wisconsin Field House (7,052) Seed and record in parenthesis; All times Hawaii
Friday’s third round
>> No. Texas A&M (13, 23-7) at No. 5 Wisconsin (4, 24-6), 9 a.m., ESPNU
>> No. 18 Hawaii (12, 26-3) vs. No. 6 Nebraska (5, 27-4), 11:30 a.m., ESPN3
>> Series: Nebraska leads Hawaii, 7-4
Saturday’s fourth round
>> Friday’s winners, 1 p.m., ESPNU
>> TV: ESPNU
>> Radio: 1420-AM/92.7-FM
>> Online: ESPN3.com
>> All-session tickets: General admission ($8 college students, $12 youth and seniors, $16 adults), $20 reserved (all ages)
>> For tickets, go to UWBadgers.com