Tuesday, November 29, 2022
By: Tiff Well
It’s always a great feeling to be playing meaningful matches as you enter the final week of the regular season. There’s so much to play for other than just pride. After playing on Sunday to cap off Senior Week and win the always emotional Senior Night match, the Rainbow Wahine had an extremely short week coming. Not to mention it was a holiday weekend as well, but that would work out well for the Bows as due to the holiday weekend, not many of the Gauchos and Matadors students would be home for the matches and thus, not as much of a student atmosphere as there would have been had these matches been on any other weekend. The magic number to clinch outright was one as UH headed to Santa Barbara, a team that beat UH twice last season (including a 3-0 sweep of the Bows in Santa Barbara).
UCSB needed this match and then needed CSUN to beat Hawai`i on the next night. And the way the Gauchos started off the match, they played like their season was on the line…because it was. Once again, the Bows got off to a slow start but would take a 15-14 lead at the media timeout. A 19-16 lead wasn’t large enough as the Gauchos closed the set on a 9-4 run to win 25-23. UH had no answer for the high-octane UCSB offense as they outhit Hawai`i .441 to .286. A 4-point lead for the Bows was more than enough in Set 2 as UH hit .325 to win 25-20 and even the match at 1. What has been a bugaboo this season for UH happened again in Set 3 as a lengthy scoring run by the opponent gave UCSB a 13-5 lead. Many teams would just fold and get ready for the next set. But not this team. The Bows stormed back to tie the set at 22 and eventually have a set point opportunity at 26-25. However, the Gauchos scored the last three points to win 28-26 and lead 2-1 in the match. But the momentum built by UH to give them a chance in the third set paved the way for a dominant fourth as UH turned what was a 12-11 lead into a 21-14 advantage to then ultimately win 25-18 (the biggest set score difference of the match). One set to 15…for UH, it was the first to 15 for a conference championship and an NCAA automatic bid…for UCSB, it was the first to 15 to keep their slim NCAA postseason hopes alive. UH led 8-7 at the side change and didn’t look back. Floor captain Riley Wagoner capped off a stellar performance with her 18th and final kill as UH won 15-11 to sweep the regular season series with UCSB and capture the school’s 3rd-straight Big West Conference title and 11th overall as a BWC member. Amber Igiede shined once again, to a tune of 18 kills, a .417 hitting percentage and five blocks. Wagoner recorded her 7th double-double of the season (18 kills, 17 digs) while being the main target on serve receive (33 of 36 on reception). After being subbed out in Set 3, Caylen Alexander finished with 16 kills (five in set 4 alone) and two service aces. Directing the offense to its third-straight match of hitting over .300 (UH hit .318 against UCSB) was Kate Lang. A season-high tying 55 assists along with a career-high six kills, Lang recorded her 8th double-double as she picked up a career-high tying 17 digs. A 2-hour and 30-minute match ended with UH celebrating on the floor knowing the pressure was off as they had clinched the regular season title outright and the automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament. What was disappointing for the conference was that in a match featuring its two top teams, only 543 fans (in a 6,000 seat facility) showed up and the Challenge Review System was not in place because not all of the camera were working.
With the conference title and its automatic bid wrapped up, one would think there wasn’t anything left to play for as UH entered it’s regular season finale at CSUN. Think again. Now UH was playing for seed, but more so to keep its resume as strong as it could be. A loss to a team with an RPI close to 300 (CSUN entered the week at 280) would be devastating and UH wanted to take as much momentum as it could heading into the NCAAs.
UH never trailed, winning the first two sets 25-18, 25-20. A little bit of a let down and struggling on serve receive paved the way for CSUN to extend the match as they won set 3 25-18. More inspirational and motivational words said between sets three and four led to one of the most dominating and one-sided sets won by UH as they took the set 25-9 and the match 3-1. UH finished conference play on the road at 9-1 and with its 19th-conference win, it’s the most Big West wins by any team in history. Offensively, UH hit over .300 again (56-16-128) and held CSUN to a .178 hitting percentage. Igiede once again showcased why she should be the BWC Player of the Year as she put down 19 kills to hit .607, had a career-high four service aces and added six more blocks to her ledger. 12 kills and a career-high six blocks from Caylen Alexander helped UH defeat CSUN for the 15th-straight time. Not known for their blocking this year, UH recorded 13 total team blocks, their second-highest of the season (14.5 vs West Virginia).
The Big West Conference preseason favorites nearly ran the table during the conference season. And after starting the season 0-3, UH won 22 of its final 25 matches. Flying with the team back home on Selection Sunday, we wondered where the team would be sent to and who would be the opponent. Locales such as Austin, Stanford, San Diego were thrown out there, along with the possible first-round opponent (maybe UNLV or Georgia). Watching the Selection Show together at the Ed Wong Hospitality Room, little did Hawai`i know they would be seeded. For the first time, the NCAA seeded the top 32 teams and UH earned an 8-seed. Playing in the Stanford Quarter of the bracket, UH saw its name in the Stanford subregional taking on LSU in round one. A Louisiana native, Amber Igiede grew up maybe 20-minutes from the LSU campus. For the second straight year, UH is playing an at-large recipient out of the SEC (UH played Mississippi State last year in the Seattle subregional). It’s always a tough draw to be in a subregional with one of the top four overall seeds, but for UH: they drew a west coast destination that doesn’t involve a layover and being in California means many Hawai`i fans will make the drive within the continent or take the flight across the Pacific to support the Bows.
UH begins it’s 40th NCAA appearance on Friday against LSU and our live radio coverage on ESPN Honolulu begins at 4:15pm PT, 2:15pm HT. Also look for the Big West awards to come out sometime today or on Tuesday and expect Hawai`i to receive a couple of the major ones.