Monday, September 5, 2022 | By Tiff Wells
For the first time since 2019, the Rainbow Wahine Volleyball team welcomed back the Outrigger. Cancelled in 2020 due to the Big West Conference not having a season and then not taking place in 2021, one of the regular tournaments hosted by UH was back. Also back was a return to normalcy…no capacity restrictions and no health and safety protocols inside SimpliFi Arena at Stan Sheriff Center. After going 0-3 at the Texas A&M Invitation, UH was more than thrilled to come back home and play in front of their fan base.
The impact of the fans was on full display in the first set against Texas State as UH, by as many as six, fought off five set points against the Bobcats to steal the first set. Against an upperclassman lineup, UH found ways to string together points and feed off the crowd’s energy. Kate Lang found Amber Igiede early and often to a tune of a career-high tying 20 kills. The first win of the season, a 3-0 victory over one of the top mid-majors in the county will bode well for UH’s overall resume at the end of the season.
One of the really special things about Hawai`i volleyball is how they welcome back one of their own. Whether the played and/or coached at the University or were a former resident of the islands, this fan base makes them feel as if they have never left. Case in point was match two against West Virginia. Hilo native Reed Sunahara and former Kalihi resident Fiona (Nepo) Fonoti brought their Mountaineers back to the island for the first time since 2019. A squad with seven freshmen on their 14-player roster really showed their youth and UH took full advantage. Another 3-0 sweep and another dominant performance from Amber Igiede (16 kills, 9 blocks) paved the way for UH’s second-straight victory. Defense was the name of the match as UH recorded a season-high 14.5 total team blocks and held West Virginia to a .010 hitting percentage.
Championship Sunday was set. UH. 23rd-ranked UCLA. Another opportunity to build the resume with a big win for UH was on the table. And the fans came out, as noted at the turnstiles. A season-high crowd of 5,416 spent their Sunday afternoon…and evening rooting on the Green and White. There was a lot to root for early on as UH led 1-0 after using an extended 8-3 run midway through the set to pull away. After falling in the second, the Bows held off a late Bruin run to win the third set and take a 2-1 lead in the match. UH also made a change at setter as Mylana Byrd started the final three sets for Kate Lang and based upon matchups and rotations, Head Coach Robyn Ah Mow would change out her setters. Set four was right there for UH as they took a 20-13 lead. A 3-0 weekend. A tournament championship. A win over a longtime rival. A very nice bullet point on the resume. Arguably the best win for the Big West Conference two weeks into the season. It was just five points away. At 23-18, all UH needed was a sideout. Just like baseball, the hardest points/outs to get are the last couple. Stuck in a
rotation, UH would never sideout as UCLA won the final seven points to steal the fourth set…and take that momentum into the fifth. A tie at 1 was the last time the set was even. UH would get it as close as two points (9-7) before UCLA closed on a 6-2 run to steal the match and tournament championship. Freshman Caylen Alexander continued to shine, going for a match and career-high 18 kills.
Going 2-1 for a second-place finish is a nice accomplishment, especially after going 0-3 the previous week. But what could have been. A 3-0 weekend, with a win over a top-25 program. It was right there for the Bows and it’s “a hard one to swallow,” as Coach Ah Mow noted in the postgame.
For their efforts all weekend long, Kate Lang and Amber Igiede were both named to the Outrigger Volleyball Challenge All-Tournament Team. Even with the loss to UCLA, one could have made a strong case for Igiede to have received Most Outstanding Player honors.
Like football after an interception is thrown, the mentality needs to be “one snap and clear.” With another important non-conference week on the horizon for UH, it’s the last chance to enhance the resume before conference play starts. For a second-straight year, USC (4-2) comes to the island for a pair of matches. Everyone knows the offense goes through Amber Igiede. With her on the floor for only three rotations though, where will the offense come from for UH? And how quickly can UH sideout in those three rotations where Igiede is off the floor? It’s into week three of the season, but how quickly UH can answer those questions will tell how far this team will go this season.
Photos by David Croxford: