By Tiff Wells.
December 19 – A date so very important we just had to go with three different years!
In 1982, it’s year two of the NCAA sponsoring women’s volleyball and for the Rainbow Wahine, they were on the cusp of winning a national title. UH defeated Cal Poly in the Regional Final in San Luis Obispo to advance to their first NCAA Final Four. A familiar arena (Alex G. Spanos Center) to the Rainbow Wahine in a very familiar city in California (Stockton, home of the Pacific Tigers), the Bows were in the national championship match against two-time defending champion USC. The Women of Troy eliminated Hawai`i in the Regional Final the year before and in this final, USC was up 2-0 (16-14, 15-9) on the Rainbow Wahine at intermission. Led by middle blocker Deitre Collins (25 kills and 7 blocks) and Kori Pulaski (23 kills), the Bows staged their second comeback of the Final Four (they had rallied from 0-1 and 1-2 set deficits in the semifinal versus Stanford) to reverse sweep USC (15-13, 15-10, 15-12) and win their second national championship (the first as an NCAA member). Head Coach Dave Shoji earned Coach of the Year honors, while Collins was named Final Four MVP. UH finished the banner year 33-1.
In 1983, as the defending champions, the Rainbow Wahine returned nearly everyone. Returning nearly everyone meant a lot of experience and leadership was on the floor, but also a lot of confidence after winning the title the year before. Taking a business-like approach to the season, UH began the season 19-0. After winning the NCAA Regional in Texas against Kentucky, the Rainbow Wahine made it to their second-straight Final Four, this time in Lexington, Kentucky. With a 3-0 (15-9, 15-7, 15-7) sweep over Stanford in the national semifinal, UH looked to defend their title against the UCLA Bruins. UH and UCLA had already played twice this season, both times UH prevailed in five sets. The seven seniors (Deitre Collins-16 kills and 8 blocks, Joyce Ka`apuni-10 kills on 15 errorless swings with 16 digs, Kori Pulaski-8 kills and 10 digs, Sista Palakiko-3 digs, Kris Pulaski-11 digs and 2 kills, Marcie Wurts-14 digs and 5 kills and Missy Yomes-5 kills and 1 dig) all played factors in this short championship as the Rainbow Wahine made quick work (a little over an hour of elapsed time) of the Bruins, with a 3-0 sweep (15-13, 15-4, 15-10) to win their third national title (won the 1979 AIAW title) and second NCAA title. UH made NCAA women’s volleyball history as they became the first to win back-to-back national championships. To this day, only Pacific (1985 and 1986), UCLA (1990 and 1991), Stanford (1996 and 1997, 2018 and 2019), USC (2002 and 2003) and Penn State (2007-2010, 2013 and 2014) can claim the feat of winning back-to-back NCAA championships in women’s volleyball. The Rainbow Wahine finished the banner season with a 34-2 record.
In 1987, UH looked for redemption in the NCAA Tournament. An unexpected first-round exit in 1984 at Oregon (lost in five sets), followed by tough losses in the 1985 regional semifinal (swept at Pacific) and the 1986 regional final (lost in four sets against Pacific) where the NCAA went to a strictly regional seeding (at this time, UH was in the Northwest Regional), the Rainbow Wahine began the season winning 25-straight matches. Hosting the Northwest Regional (for the first time ever, after hosting their first ever first-round match) was huge for the Bows and playing in Klum Gym was a major homecourt advantage. Able to not only beat Pacific at home, but to do so in 3-0 fashion (15-11, 15-9, 15-12), UH advanced to their first final four since winning the title back in 1983. The senior laden squad had finally gotten past Pacific in the NCAA Tournament, now eyes focused on Indianapolis (site of the Final Four) and Illinois (UH’s opponent in the National Semifinal). A 3-0 sweep (19-17, 15-13, 15-11) against the Illini moved the Bows into the Championship match against the Stanford Cardinal. Reydan “Tita” Ahuna, Mahina Eleneki wanted to do it for the state, to win the title for the people. A special group of seniors that were able to finally put it together and go out as champions. Eagye recorded the triple-double (10 kills, 12 digs, 12 blocks…including the title clinching point) while Diana Jessie chipped in 13 kills and 15 digs. Eleneki had 7 kills on 25 errorless swings with 14 digs while Ahuna went for 7 kills and 11 digs. Setter Martina Cincerova paced the offense to a .237 hitting percentage and added a team-high 17 digs. But it was the amazing rookie, Teee Williams, who dominated. She capped off her freshman campaign with a match-high 21 kills to hit .386 and recorded 13 digs as the Rainbow Wahine won the title in four sets (15-10, 15-10, 9-15 and 15-1). Williams was also named the National Player of the Year…as a freshman. Hawai`i finished off the banner season with a 37-2 record and their third banner of the decade.
For a 10-year look back on this team by former Honolulu Star-Bulletin and Honolulu Star-Advertiser wahine volleyball beat writer Cindy Luis, click here.