Wahine left searching for answers after an ugly loss to USC

Thud.

It’s the sound of hitting the ground hard,an out-of-control crash after being up on a such a high.

There is no other way to explain the implosion by Hawai’i in Set 3 of Saturday’s rematch with USC in the Outrigger Volleyball Challenge. The Rainbow Wahine were in control, holding what should have been a safe 20-11 lead.

Five more points. That’s all it would take to be up 2-1 and finish off the Women of Troy for a second consecutive night in four sets. That’s what a young team, one that hadn’t played a season since 2019, needed to have some momentum heading to conference play. 

Instead, it was USC that walked out of SimpliFi Arena at Stan Sheriff Center with a statement of a comeback, riding a 14-2 run at the end of Set 3 to pull off a stunner. An effective game plan — relentlessly targeting the Wahine’s leading attacker Brooke Van Sickle on serve — helped the Women of Troy end a three-match skid via a 21-25, 25-16, 25-22, 25-23 non-conference win.

Brooke Botkin and Emilia Weske each had 16 kills and Botkin added 15 digs for USC (4-4). The Women of Troy finished with a 13-8 edge in blocks, 8-2 in the final two sets of the match that lasted 2 hours and 23 minutes.

Van Sickle, who took 57 of the Wahine’s 147 swings, finished with 12 kills and 11 digs. Junior setter Mylana Byrd added her second double-double in as many nights with 31 assists and 13 digs for Hawaii (3-5).

“We just didn’t adjust,” Wahine coach Robyn Ah Mow said of SC’s rally in Set 3. “We took too long to adjust. They went from (setting) high balls on the right to high balls on the right to take advantage of a shorter block.

“We were right there, were right there. Then it was errors, unforced errors. Started easing up on the serve. It’s a domino effect. Shank a ball, not a good pass. Or it’s a good pass and it’s not a good swing. It goes down from there.”

“We know we can take care of business,” Van Sickle added. “We got complacent. We needed to take care of a lot more balls.”

Hawai’i also didn’t take care of adjusting to the lineup changes USC made. Weske didn’t even play on Friday and both Candice Denny and Brooklyn Schirmer had sub-par performances. Both turned it around with Denny going from two kills and hitting .000 to 10 with one error. Schirmer played in one set with two kills Friday, then had 12 Saturday.

Wahine sophomore middle Amber Igiede was very effective with 11 kills but had just been subbed out for libero Tayli Ikenaga when SC made its devastating run in Set 3.

Down 20-12, Botkin camped out on the baseline, a serving run that included three blocks by USC that cut the lead to 20-19. It was 21-20 and then basically it was over. The Women of Troy outscored the Wahine 4-1 to complete the stunning comeback. 

The Wahine opened up a 3-0 lead in Set 4 and appeared to go up 5-1. But a successful challenge by SC made it 4-2. 

UH saw an 8-6 lead disappear, turning into an 8-8 tie. It briefly looked like it would go to a fifth when the Wahine lead 15-13 at the media timeout. 

SC chipped away before taking the lead for good at 17-16. Hawai’i kept chasing but never got closer than 22-21. At 24-21, an ace by freshman Martyna Leoniak made it 24-22, forcing an SC timeout.

Van Sickle, who received 40 of SC’s 79 serves, was blocked to end it.