Sunday, September 25, 2022
By: Tiff Wells
The target on UH’s back. It grows larger year in and year out once they step into Big West Conference play. The standard of the BWC (and the Western Athletic Conference when UH was a member back in the day) has been Hawai`i and the other teams know that if they want to contend for the regular season title, they must go through the Rainbow Wahine.
The Bows came into BWC play as the two-time defending conference champions. But with a sub-.500 record, there was a heightened sense of awareness around the team that this will most likely be a one-bid league represented in the NCAAs.
Take care of business. Don’t rely on a committee to hand out an at-large bid. Understanding that a couple of losses during conference play could determine if they are playing in December or watching the NCAAs on television is in the back of their minds as they prepare for each match.
UH has looked to focus more on each set within each match rather than the 20-match conference season. The goal at the end of each gameday is to go 1-0.
Point scoring runs and the inability to close out sets. Two of the larger factors that hurt the Bows during the non-conference. Against UC Davis on Friday, the Bows showcased the ability to finish sets when things got tight. Tied at 19 in Set 1, UH finished on an 6-3 run. Again at 19-all in Set 3, the Bows closed it out on a 6-2 run.
A cliché often used in sports is offense wins games, defense wins championships. And the Rainbow Wahine defense showed out to a tune of nine blocks and 48 digs (13 by Tayli Ikenaga and 11 from Riley Wagoner). UH also held UC Davis to a .131 hitting percentage. UH outblocked UC Davis 9-4, outdug them 48-30 en route to the 3-0 (22-14-21) victory. The first double-double of the season for Wagoner (12 kills, 11 digs) and another 10-plus kill performance for Amber Igiede (10-3-18, .389) led UH offensively. Tiffany Westerberg added 8 kills on a season-high .412 hitting percentage and at the net, recorded a season-high five blocks.
Closing out the first week of conference play, UH faced a UC Riverside team that also had a sub-.500 record. The Highlanders had never beaten the Rainbow Wahine before (0-29 all-time). After an eight-point opening set victory, the foot was taken off the gas just a little bit as UCR jumped out to a 17-9 lead. Then the comeback began.
A sideout here, a point-scoring run there. And just like that, UH was within one at 19-18. Five kills each from Igiede and Caylen Alexander powered the Bows to a 25-23 set two win and a 2-0 match lead. The break between sets two and three is just five minutes long. Sometimes only a coach speaks. Other times it’s a players-led huddle. Whatever was said led to a focused group throughout the entirety of Set 3.
The set was tied at 5-all. UH dominated to win 25-13 and close out the match with their second-straight 3-0 home sweep. The Bows hit .529 (19-1-34) in the final frame and for the match, held UCR to a .133 (30-15-113) hitting percentage. Going back to September 2017, UH has now won 27-straight sets against the Highlanders after Saturday’s 3-0 (17-23-13) win.
UH outdug UCR 60-35 and the “littles” did their job. The trio of Ikenaga (17 digs), Talia Edmonds (11 digs) and Kendra Ham (7 digs) combined to match the dig output by UCR. Offensively, UH dominated as they for a season-high .414 (49-8-99) hitting percentage. Igiede hit double-digit kills again (12-0-21, .571) and Alexander put down a match-high 15 kills en route to a career-high .556 hitting percentage. Sitting near courtside, one can hear the freshman routinely calling for the ball. When she joined the postgame show, she admitted to being a bit nervous during her first home match. But the freshman isn’t playing like one and is getting more and more comfortable on the floor as the season has gone on.
Taking care of business at home. That’s what UH did over the weekend. Sure they weren’t two clean nor perfect 3-0 wins. But they were 3-0 wins nonetheless. And after just one week of conference play, only three teams remain unbeaten: Hawai`i, UC Santa Barbara and Cal Poly. The three teams that were picked to finish 1-2-3 in the BWC Preseason Coaches Poll.
For the first time since the opening week of the season, UH heads to the continent. A stop in Orange County to face a Cal State Fullerton squad that surprised many in the non-conference, going 6-2 before ending the trip against longtime archrival Long Beach State is what’s on the Week 2 BWC docket for the Bows. The Titans (7-3) and Beach (6-4) both went 1-1 on the road this past week.
Photos by: David Croxford