Who’s got next? For Hawai’i, it’s UCSB

Big West Volleyball

Times HST

Friday, 4 p.m.

Hawai’i (11-5, 8-0) at UC Santa Barbara (12-9, 8-1)

Series: Hawai’i leads, 43-9

Saturday, 4 p.m.

Hawai’i at CSUN (4-12, 3-6)

Series: Hawai’i leads, 26-2

Radio: 1500-AM

Live stream: ESPN+ (Friday only)

Live stats: Hawaiiathletics.com

Social: @HawaiiWVB

It is the June Jones’ philosophy playing out on the volleyball court. Jones, the former Hawai’i football coach, believed in the “One and clear” when wanting his players to move on to the next play with little mental residual — good or bad — from the previous play.

It’s what the Hawai’i volleyball staff is trying to instill in the Rainbow Wahine. “One play and move on to the next.”

And this week? Next match. 

It is Friday at UC Santa Barbara, the first meeting between the teams atop the Big West standings. The Wahine (11-5, 8-0) have won their last 19 conference matches dating back to 2019, the last season of Big West play. The Gauchos (12-9, 8-1) had won their first seven, dropping just two sets, before falling flat last Saturday at UC Davis, a 3-1 victory by the Aggies — just their second conference win — who finished with a 19-6 edge in blocks.

UCSB’s loss was a a bit of a surprise, given that the Gauchos had been cruising the first three weeks in the Big West. They came into last week leading the conference (league matches only) in kills, assists and blocks, and in per set averages in all three categories.

Little changed in this week’s statistics with UCSB leading in five of six categories, yielding the block average to Hawai’i (2.50 per set). The Gauchos took their frustrations out on CSUN Tuesday, a 25-19, 25-21, 25-15 83-minute sweep, capped by a dominating Set 3 performance where UCSB finished with a 20-9 margin in kills. 

Junior setter Mehana Ma’a (Punahou) had 23 assists — two off her UCSB-career high of 25 set at Davis on Saturday — in the Gauchos’ two-setter offense, and sophomore libero Macall Peed had 15 of the Gauchos’ 46 digs. Ma’a, daughter of former Hawai’i volleyball players Lisa Strand and Pono Ma’a, transferred after two seasons at Cal State San Bernardino, setting the Coyotes to a 33-0 record and the NCAA Division II championship in 2019. Peed, the other transfer on the UCSB roster, played two seasons at Penn State. 

In conference-only matches, UCSB and Hawai’i are 1-2 in hitting percentage (.295-.263) and assists (15.10-14.00) and kills (16.17-15.07). Friday will feature several of the Big West’s top middles in the Wahine sophomore Amber Igiede, and Gauchos senior Rowan Ennis.

In the last meeting at the Thunderdome on Oct. 12, 2019, then-No. 19 Hawaii prevailed 25-20, 25-22, 25-19. Igiede finished third on the team in kills (8) behind since-departed freshman Hanna Hellvig (14) and senior McKenna Ross (12). Rowan had four kills and only senior Lindsey Ruddins was in double digits (12) for UCSB.

Three weeks later at the Stan Sheriff Center, Hawai’i rallied for a 25-19, 22-25, 21-25, 25-18, 17-15 victory. Ennis had just three kills while Igiede just missed a double-double with 10 kills-nine blocks (3 solo). 

The match saw current senior hitter Brooke Van Sickle — missing the earlier match in Isla Vista _ come in off the bench for the final three sets. She stabilized the passing, and both teams left the court 19-3 and tied for second in the Big West at 9-2.

This week, UCSB is a half-game behind Hawai’i with the teams — coincidently — in the same position as their respective men’s squads last spring. The Rainbow Warriors won the Big West’s regular season but were upset in the conference tournament by UC San Diego The Gauchos claimed the tourney title and automatic NCAA bid, only to lose — for the fourth time in 2021 — to Hawai’i in the NCAA Tournament en route to the Warriors earning the national championship.

Unlike the men’s side, where the Big West has become the premier conference, there likely will be just one bid — the automatic — given out come Selection Sunday. The expanded 11-team conference has only one team — Hawai’i — in the top 100 in the Ratings Percentage Index that is used to help seed and select teams for the postseason. The Wahine are at 47.

Currently only Hawai’i (11-5, 8-0), UC Santa Barbara (12-9, 8-1) and UC Irvine (12-6, 5-3) have overall and conference records that are both above .500.

Which is why the focus for the Wahine this week is to focus on the “next” at hand. Next up being UC Santa Barbara.

“Santa Barbara is a really scrappy team,” Hawai’i coach Robyn Ah Mow said. “They’ve got some good hitters. It will be a good match.

“We’re still growing, we’re still working on ourselves. (The Wahine) have been doing a great job of coming back from being down (in the score) but how long is that going to last? 

“We’ve got to do a better job at having a one ball (mistake) not be two balls.”

Or six. The memory is fresh from Saturday were Hawai’i was down by six points in each of the first two sets, including 7-1 to open the match with Cal State Bakersfield. 

It was a 6-0 hole when starting Set 2. Set 3 was a little better when trailing 3-1 but the Wahine didn’t take the lead for good until freshman opposite Martyna Leoniak’s kill broke the seventh tie to go ahead at 18-17.

Freshman setter Kate Lang’s serving run made it 23-17, sparking the 7-1 closing run. Interestingly, the Wahine’s final rally was done without Igiede on the court; she had played key roles in helping Hawai’i get out of the early holes in Sets 1 and 2.

In the opener, the Wahine were down 7-2 when Igiede entered. In her three front-row rotations, she had three kills and a block, and Hawai’i had a 14-10 lead when Igiede went back to serve. 

The sophomore continued to make an impact the rest of the night, finishing with 10 kills on 15 errorless swings with four blocks, six digs and assist. All that when sitting out Hawai’s 10-3 run that finished off the match against the Roadrunners.

“The game plan has been not to beat ourselves and take care of our side of the net,” she said. “Now that we’re on a steady incline, the target on our back is pretty big and getting bigger.

“ As the pressure grows, it helps us grow more confident. We have control of our destiny and it’s always going to be about how we show up.”

2 Comments

  1. Went to pick up my kid from UCSB, picked up dinner from the well known pizza place and saw some of the Wahine there. Can’t imagine they stay in Isla Vista overnight since it’s so expensive.

    • Not sure where they are staying. Travel plans are not released. They probably at same hotel Thurs and Fri then drive to Northridge and stay somewhere in The Valley.

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