Monday, November 21, 2022
By: Tiff Wells
Taking care of business. That’s what UH did the week prior to Senior Week. Two road sweeps won with two different styles moved the Bows to a season-high tying 8-match win streak and a shot in keeping their postseason fate in their own hands. Holding onto a 1-match lead in the standings with four matches left, UH received an early gift. The night prior to UH hosting Cal Poly, UC Davis stunned UC Santa Barbara in Northern California in a 5-set upset. Meaning that with four matches left, UH was two matches clear of the Gauchos in the loss column. As nice as that was, the Rainbow Wahine remained focused on the next opponent…who just happened to be the only conference team so far to have beaten them.
As the Bows walked out of the Mott Athletics Center after the 4-set loss to Cal Poly on October 15th, UH starting setter Kate Lang mentioned to us that she couldn’t wait to get the Mustangs on the island in the second round of conference play. She had circled the 11/18 date in her planner and UH wanted payback. They continued to go match-by-match, winning eight matches in a row (dropping just three sets along the way) while Cal Poly stumbled a couple of times. As senior week began with the big matchup against the Mustangs, the crowd showed up…to a tune of 6,036, a new season-high. But they were held quiet to start.
As has been customary for the Rainbow Wahine this season, another lengthy extended scoring run was put together by the opponent. What was a 7-all tie turned into a 25-16 Set 1 win by Cal Poly. Everything was working for the Mustangs (12 kills on 20 swings to hit .500, while siding out at 87%) as the Bows struggled (9 hitting errors en route to an .065 hitting percentage). Also customary when UH has a less than ideal performance in a set, Head Coach Robyn Ah Mow finds the nearest tunnel to lead her team into and an extended discussion is held. Whatever motivational words were said, the team took them to heart as the Bows would then outscore the Mustangs 50-28 (25-12, 25-16) in sets two and three to take the 2-1 lead in the match. Former Mustang Kendra Ham went on a 10-0 service run in Set 2, while Kate Lang scored 14-straight points from the service line as UH combined to hit .461 (.571 in Set 2, .351 in Set 3) over the two sets. As comfortable as UH was in those two sets, Set 4 was anything but. Down 10-2 and 20-15, many felt the match would go the distance. UH had other ideas. Down but not out, UH once again took on the persona of Head Coach Robyn Ah Mow and as she’s told us, “if you don’t see me panic, don’t panic.” Fighting their way back and not giving up, the set was tied at 20. UH got the 2-point cushion it needed, sided out and then won the set 25-23 and the match 3-1.
17 kills by Amber Igiede, 16 from Caylen Alexander and Braelyn Akana added 10 as UH outhit Cal Poly .305 to .185 (in the first meeting, Cal Poly outhit UH .313 to .145). UH has also made significant adjustments of slowing down the opposing teams’ number one offensive
option when they play them a second time. Mustangs’ Opposite Hitter Maia Dvoracek, who had 21 kills and hit .514 in the first meeting, had just nine kills and an .034 hitting percentage. UH took advantage of the gift given to them by UC Davis the night before as they took a 2-game lead in the standings into the weekend.
The emotional win two nights prior. It’s easy to get up for a big match, against a rival. Especially against a team that handed you your only conference loss. Then follow that up with the Awards Banquet on the rare day off between conference home matches. And then the emotion that comes with Senior Night. There are senior nights…and then there are Senior Nights in Hawai`i. And with just one senior, Mylana Byrd, a reserve setter, there is no guarantee she’d get into the match. The goal for the rest of the team is to send the senior(s) out with a win and for the starters, their goal is to build enough of a lead where position changes can be made and the senior(s) can have her moment.
Coming onto the hardwood (not enough time for a floor transition due to a women’s basketball doubleheader prior) wearing Byrd warmup shirts, the focus was there from the get-go for the Rainbow Wahine. What started out well (11-2 lead), turned into a nailbiter (13-11) in the first set. A 12-2 extended run to close out the frame was highlighted by the insertion of Mylana Byrd late in the set. With mom, dad and her brothers in attendance, the energy was back around the arena and on the floor as UH won the set 25-13. A 25-10 Set 2 victory gave the Bows a 2-0 lead in the match and the rout was on. UH knew all too well what happened a year ago as the Gauchos spoiled Senior Night a year ago and they weren’t about to let that happen two years in a row. A 25-12 3rd set victory gave UH their 13th win at home of the season and a perfect 10-for-10 in conference matches played at home. Now at 20-6, it marks the 42nd 20-win season in now Year 48 of Rainbow Wahine Volleyball. Clinching a share of the Big West Conference regular season title in the process with their magic number reduced to 1 (1 loss by UCSB or 1 win by UH), that was all secondary as the night belonged to Mylana Byrd.
The Houston native, a transfer from Alabama to Hawai`i two months prior to the pandemic beginning, started the first eight matches of the 2021 season before losing her starting spot to Kate Lang, it’s been a long journey for Byrd. But one for her that she wouldn’t have changed for anything. She loves the state, the volleyball community and the ohana environment that welcomed her with open arms. It could have been very easy to just pack up and leave once the starting spot was lost. But the lone senior stuck with it and became the mom of the group. One to lead the group text conversations, making sure everyone is ok and the many behind-the-scenes tasks are taken care of. Hoisted onto the shoulders of teammates Braelyn Akana and Amber Igiede after the victory, Byrd had her moment. 10 assists, four digs and three blocks as her and Kate Lang directed the offense to it’s 11th .300 or better hitting percentage (UH hit .307). A team in CSUB that took UH to five sets last month, hit -.050 in its trip to the island. Simply put, the Bows would not lose on Mylana’s Night.
At 20-6 overall and 17-1 in conference, the Bows saw their RPI earlier on Monday drop two spots to No. 37 with one final regular season roadtrip on the horizon. As stated earlier,
UH’s magic number to win the regular season title outright is 1. That could come as early as Tuesday when UCSB hosts CSUN as a Matador win would give UH the conference title outright. If that doesn’t happen, it could then happen on Friday when the Bows travel to Santa Barbara. Also on this roadtrip is a stop in Northridge to face CSUN as the regular season comes to a close. A 29th-straight NCAA appearance (40th overall) and 11th Big West Conference title is on the doorstep for the Rainbow Wahine. Just as a reminder, you can watch the 2022 D1 Women’s Volleyball Championship Selection Show this Sunday, 2:30pm HT on ESPNU. One UH win (or a UCSB) loss guarantees seeing the name Hawai`i somewhere during the bracket reveal.
Photos by: David Croxford