Five Questions with Tiff Wells
The University of Hawaii women’s volleyball team opens its 2017 season this Friday, hosting the Texaco Rainbow Wahine Invitational at the Stan Sheriff Center. Hawaii will face Marquette at approximately 7:00 p.m., following the UCLA-San Diego match.
We sat down with Tiff Wells, the “Voice of Rainbow Wahine Volleyball,” and asked him the five most pressing questions facing this year’s squad.
ESPN 1420: Just going by your expectations and early observations, how is Robyn Ah Mow-Santos different from Dave Shoji?
TIFF WELLS: It’s going to be interesting. Obviously, Robyn has no previous collegiate head coaching experience. She’s had some club coaching. But watching her in practice, I would say everything’s a little more intense. I think that’s kind of the feeling that the players have felt through the summer and going through fall camp. She and her coaching staff are very hands-on, demonstrating on the floor rather than from the sidelines. As soon as they see something, they’ll stop the drill and get on the court and help the player – giving them a short tutorial, if you will. It’s going to be different. Robyn is a little more intense than Coach Shoji.
ESPN 1420: Former UH All-American Anjelica Ljungqvist has returned to Manoa to serve as an assistant coach. What does she bring to the table?
TIFF WELLS: Passion. She and Robyn teamed up for a memorable run though the 1996 NCAA Tournament. They made it to the NCAA Final, losing to Stanford. For both of them, it’s about returning to their alma mater and giving back what the program and the state gave so much to them. Yes, it’s going to be the first year of coaching for Anjelica, but she’s excited. She wants to get on the floor and see the progression of these young ladies.
ESPN 1420: At this point, who’s expected to be the replacement for Nikki Taylor?
TIFF WELLS: (Laughs.) As Robyn said during the first day of all camp, don’t expect Nikki Taylor or Annie Mitchem to walk through that door. I think this coaching staff and team realize that what’s done is done as far as the 2016 season, and they’re not dwelling on who isn’t here. They’re focusing on who is here. It’s going to be different, obviously. Nikki had a lot of accolades, and a lot of the offense the last couple of years went through her. For a program that’s had that “terminator” or “go-to player” for the last decade – there was Nikki, and you can throw in Emily Hartong before her – this year it’s going to be a lot different.
The offense is going to rely on the team being a cohesive unit. It’s going to be a McKenna Granato. It’s going to be an Emily Maglio. It’s going to require a lot of moving pieces, and it’s going to really showcase the decision making of [settler] Norene Iosia.
ESPN 1420: Speaking of Norene, she had such a great freshman season. Just how high is her ceiling?
As high as the Stan Sheriff Center. She was First Team All-Big West last year as a freshman. She was on the Junior National Team in the summer. She got to be tutored under Lindsey Berg last year, and now she’s learning under Robyn Ah Mow-Santos. That’s arguably two of the best setters to ever step on the floor in women’s volleyball. Norene will try to show why she was the best setter in the entire 2016 recruiting class.
Outside of an injury, God forbid, of some sort, I really don’t see her falling into a sophomore slump. I think she has big expectations for this season and for her career, especially after what she accomplished last year. The offense is hers. Last year, you saw Tayler Higgins start the first couple of matches of the season, and then Norene took over. She learned a lot from Tayler. This season, she was pushed by [junior redshirt] Faith Ma‘afala in fall camp, but for the most part Norene has the offense to herself.
ESPN 1420: Who are the newcomers that fans should keep an eye out for?
TIFF WELLS: Of the four incoming freshmen, three of them should see a lot of playing time, and two in particular. Sophia Howling and Sky Williams are middles from the state of California. Sky can also play a little on the left. The fans should be seeing a lot of them. Also, throw in Shaney Lipscomb on the right side. She’s coming off an ankle injury in the spring. She brings a lot of versatility in the front row. And then throw in Janelle Gong, a defensive specialist from California. Those four make up the recruiting class. Don’t be surprised if you see one, maybe two of these true freshmen in the starting lineup, most likely Howling and Williams.
Also, don’t be surprised if you see Faith Ma‘afala. She pushed Norene in fall camp, but had a little bit of a knee tweak that first week. When she gets back healthy, expect to see her playing. Even if she doesn’t get a lot of playing time, look for her to be that vocal leader and presence that Tayler Higgins was last season.
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