Monday, August 28, 2022 | By Tiff Wells
For the 9th time in program history and first since 2005, the Rainbow Wahine Volleyball team opened the season on the road. Arguably one of the toughest non-conference tournaments around the country, the Bows joined No. 6 Pitt, No. 25 San Diego and host Texas A&M for the Texas A&M Invitational in College Station, Texas. With 2022 All-Big West Conference Preseason selections Kate Lang and Amber Igiede, the Bows looked to find an answer as to whom would replace the offensive production vacated by 2021 BWC Player of the Year Brooke Van Sickle.
An 11 a.m. Central time start didn’t phase UH as they took the opening set from host Texas A&M. Five players with ten or more kills, including career-highs from Riley Wagoner (21), Tiffany Westerberg (12) and Braelyn Akana (10) helped the Bows push the match to a 5th set. Caylen Alexander was impressive in her collegiate debut as she added 10 kills of her own. However, inconsistent serving, shaky serve receive passing and too many Aggie scoring runs led Texas A&M to the 15-11 set victory and 3-2 match win (25-18, 19-25, 23-25, 25-17, 11-15).
A rare meeting between Hawai`i and an ACC member occurred on day 2 as No. 6 Pitt was the opponent. UH’s serve receive was a bit better as the Middle Blockers shined. They combined for 16 kills (Westerberg with 9, Amber Igiede had 7). However, all pin hitters struggled against the Pitt block. Again, inconsistent passing led to UH being out of system for the majority of the day as UH searched for answers. Chandler Cowell entered the match for the first time wearing the green and white. It was also a return to match action for Annika de Goede as she came off a season-ending injury last September. UH tried a different setter, putting in Mylana Byrd. And just like Friday, UH gave up a few too many point scoring runs and as they battled back in set three, they couldn’t overcome that early deficit as Pitt would hand UH its second-straight loss, this one in straight sets (17-16-21).
A Sunday 10 a.m. local start and before you knew it, No. 25 San Diego was up 11-1 in set 1. UH would get the set as close as 2 (17-15), but another late and lengthy point-scoring run put the Toreros up 1-0. Again, same scenario in set two of being down by a handful of points early on, only to battle back through the rest of the set before running out of time put UH into an 0-2 deficit once again. Just like how they started the tournament on Friday with a quick start, UH opened up their biggest lead against San Diego as they went up 12-6. However, stuck in a bad rotation and not being able to sideout, USD eventually took the lead at 16-15 and didn’t look back. A late UH charged was held off by the Toreros as the won the match in three sets (18-21-23) and took the title of Texas A&M Invitational champs.
For the first time since 2017, UH starts the season 0-3. It’s not a sprint, it’s just one week. Even with the losses, UH will have the benefit of playing some really good competition that will only help them the rest of the season, both in a match and in their resume at the end of the season. Just a freshman, Caylen Alexander showcased why she was highly recruited out of Georgia. Amber Igiede continued to do Amber Igiede type things in the middle, offensively picking up right where she left off in 2021. And with the Middle Blocker position severely hit by depth issues, Tiffany Westerberg shined all weekend long (25 kills and seven blocks, hitting .264). And for her efforts, she deservedly received a spot on the All-Tournament Team.
It’s just one week. For the first time since the 2019 season opener, SimpliFi Arena at Stan Sheriff Center will be at max capacity (2020, Big West cancelled the season and in 2021, UH began with limited attendance due to health and safety protocols). Hope to see you this weekend as Texas State, West Virginia and nationally ranked UCLA come to the island for the Outrigger Volleyball Challenge.