Sunday, October 23, 2022
By: Tiff Wells
Entering the halfway point of the Big West Conference season, three teams entered the week tied atop the standings at 7-1…Hawai`i, Cal Poly and UC Santa Barbara. With the Bows back at home for a pair of matches and both the Mustangs and Gauchos on the road, could UH take advantage of the schedule and retake sole possession of first-place? To do that though, the Bows would need to hold serve at home and see a road team…or two, stumble in a match. Interesting how things worked out.
An added boost to the roster was the return of libero Tayli Ikenaga. Out injured the previous three matches, Ikenaga was cleared to return earlier in the week. It allowed Head Coach Robyn Ah Mow to go back to her normal lineup with Ikenaga at libero, Talia Edmonds to play the backrow for Caylen Alexander and then Kendra Ham to serve and play the backrow for Braelyn Akana.
Some may have thought for UH that with them having the more important match on night two, that Friday’s match against CSUN (7-14, 2-7) could be a trap. UH knew they couldn’t afford to look ahead to the Gauchos and slip up against the Matadors. The focus, attention to the scouting report was on full display from the get go. And it was the floor captain leading the way. Even keel Riley Wagoner recorded eight kills in Set 1 as UH rolled to a 25-15 victory. Hawai`i hit .517 (17-2-29). Set 2 was close in the beginning as the Bows had the 7-5 lead. Then the Bows went on a run. What was a 7-5 lead turned to a 19-13 advantage as UH cruised to a 25-18 victory and a 2-0 lead in the match. UH held an 8-7 lead in Set 3 and then another lengthy run to push the advantage to 21-13. 25-18 Set 3 score and a 3-0 home victory for UH, their eighth win at home on the season (5-0 in conference play). Defensively, UH held CSUN’s number one offensive option (pin hitter Nicole Nevarez) to just three kills and the Matadors only hit .168 (30-14-95). For the sixth time this season, UH hit over .300 (.381) en route to their 14th straight win over CSUN. Wagoner hit a career-best .467 (16-2-30), while Amber Igiede hit .556 (11-1-18). Akana kept CSUN honest from the right side as she put down six kills on seven swings. No slip-up….UH took care of business to set up the first-place showdown on the island.
Wagoner noted that when the season schedule came out during the summer, two dates were circled…October 22nd and November 25th. UH knew all too well what happened last season against UCSB. Getting swept at Santa Barbara and then falling in five at home on senior night, UH looked for redemption in meeting number one. As if the match needed any additional incentive, UC Irvine handed Cal Poly a 4-set loss maybe three hours prior to first serve on the island. Defend home court…take over sole possession of first-place in the conference at the halfway point. Sounds easy, right? The home crowd was loud from the get go and buoyed by their fans, UH took Set 1 25-21. Even being outhit .353 to .342, UH was more steady on serve receive and first-ball contact. Up 19-17 in Set 2, the inability to close out a set reared its ugly head again as UCSB finished on an 8-1 run to win it 25-20 and tie the match at 1-set a piece. Midway through Set 3 and again, UH led it…this time 15-14. Aided by the reversal of a call that went in favor of UH, Hawai`i ended the set on a 10-4 extended run to win it 25-18 and lead 2-1 in the match. Leads of 10-4 and 17-11 were too much for the visitors to overcome in Set 4 as Kendra Ham propelled UH to first-place in the Big West Conference after her only kill of the match ended the two-hour, 19-minute match at 25-22.
Sometimes stats don’t always tell the whole story. UCSB outhit (.234 to .220), outdug (67-66) and outblocked (10-8) UH. Hawai`i was the more efficient team on serve receive. Big matches require the big-time players to step up and they showed up for UH. The 16th-straight match for Amber Igiede with double-digit kills (13 on 35 swings, hitting .257) and Riley Wagoner made a very strong case for BWC Offensive Player of the Week honors after her 17-kill performance, hitting .292 and recording 13 digs for her third double-double of the season. Eight kills from Caylen Alexander, seven from Braelyn Akana and six from Tiffany Westerberg meant UH had five players with six or more kills. Not only did Kate Lang distribute the offense well, but she found her hot hitters and took advantage of mismatches. Coming up big in the backrow was defensive specialist Kendra Ham. A career-high 18 digs, including nine in set four helped to even out and neutralize the 20-dig performance of UCSB’s libero Macall Peed.
110 of the 220 Big West Conference matches are complete and the three teams that went 1-2-3 in the BWC Preseason Coaches’ Poll sit first and tied for second. Sure UH still has to go Santa Barbara in the final weekend of the season and also welcome Cal Poly to the island in November, but 9-1 in conference is nothing to sneeze at…especially after how the non-conference went for this team.
A very short week for the team coming up with probably a Tuesday flight as matches are Thursday (at UC Riverside) and Saturday (UC Davis). Keep in mind that for the Saturday match at UC Davis, there is no video stream (due to a home football conflict for UCD). 10 matches remain in conference play for the Bows, six on the road and four at home. Enjoy the win over UCSB for a day and then it’s back to the practice gym to get ready for the Highlanders and Aggies. UH swept both teams last month in Honolulu. An RPI of 51 entering the week, UH can only control their side of the net and watch from a distance how their non-conference opponents continue to do in their respective conference matches.
Photos by: David Croxford