For the first time since 2016, the University of Hawai‘i women’s volleyball team opened the NCAA Tournament with a win after taking down the Northern Colorado Bears in four sets (26-24, 24-26, 25-8, 25-15). The No. 18 Rainbow Wahine (25-3, 14-2 Big West Conference) move on to the round of 32, and will take on No. 20 San Diego Saturday night at the Stan Sheriff Center.
After participating in full warmups for the first time since her injury, junior outside hitter Jolie Rasmussen finally made her long-awaited return to the Taraflex. Rasmussen finished with just 4 kills on 13 swings in two sets played, but her presence clearly turned the tide for the Wahine. After two tightly contested sets, the ‘Bows blitzed Northern Colorado 25-8 in Rasmussen’s return to the lineup, before wrapping things up with a dominant 25-15 set four.
Senior outside hitter McKenna Ross continued her strong play, leading the team with 14 kills. Ross was the only Wahine to put down double-digit kills, with a trio of ‘Bows falling just short. Redshirt junior Brooke Van Sickle, junior Skyler Williams, and freshman Amber Igiede each finished with 9 kills. Redshirt junior Rika Okino was a force to be reckoned with on the defensive end, leading the team 16 digs. Okino led three Wahine who finished with double-digit digs. Van Sickle picked up 15, while senior setter Norene Iosia finished with 13. Iosia’s 13 digs again gave her a double-double, as she also finished with a team-best 25 assists. Meanwhile, Iosia again excelled from the service line, putting down 4 more service aces, out of 8 total aces for the Wahine squad.
Set one began auspiciously for the ‘Bows, as Iosia put down her first service ace on the first touch of the match. The early advantage quickly evaporated after a 4-0 Northern Colorado run however. Three straight points by Hawai‘i, aided by two Bears attacking errors, righted the ship to tie it 4-4. The tight contest continued, with neither team able to pull away. Trailing by three scores late in the set, the Wahine rallied for a 3-0 run on kills by Skyler Williams and freshman middle blocker Amber Igiede and an Okino service ace to tie the game up 22-22. A team block by the ‘Bows’ freshman duo Igiede and outside hitter Hanna Hellvig gave Hawai‘i its first set point opportunity of the tournament. A Northern Colorado kill briefly forced a deuce, but the Wahine responded with a Brooke van Sickle kill, before another Igiede/Hellvig block put the final nail in the coffin as the ‘Bows took set one 26-24.
The second set began similarly to the first. Igiede’s kill gave Hawai‘i the lead to open the set, but a 3-0 Northern Colorado run gave them the early lead. The Bears held on to the lead for a while, before three straight errors led to a 5-0 Wahine run and 9-8 UH lead. The lead continued to be passed back-and-forth, before the match wound up at another 24-23 set point. This time around however, it was Northern Colorado who held the advantage. And this time, it was Hawai‘i who briefly played spoiler, as an Igiede/Van Sickle block forced a deuce. The block ultimately failed to spark a run, as the Bears put down two straight kills to tied the match up at 1-1.
Rasmussen finally made her return to the court and starting lineup to open the third set. Rasmussen didn’t wait long to get her name back in the stat sheet. After a back-to-back UH service ace and service error to start, Rasmussen put down her first kill since early September to give the Wahine the early lead. Rasmussen later made it two for two with another kill to push the lead to 4-2. More importantly, Rasmussen’s return had clearly changed the momentum in favor of the ‘Bows. Holding a slim 4-3 lead, the Wahine erupted for a 10-0 run, capped off by senior setter Bailey Choy’s second service ace of the run, to take a commanding 14-3 lead. A UH attacking error ended the run, but not for long. After a Northern Colorado service error forced a side out, the Wahine took off on another 5-0 run to push their advantage to 19-4. The Bears finally began answering to the Wahine scores, but couldn’t put together a run of their own as Hawai‘i came out of the back-and-forth with a 22-7 lead. After one last Northern Colorado kill, the Wahine scored the final three points to wrap up the 25-8 set three win, the most lopsided set score of the season.
With their season on the line, Northern Colorado tried to show some fight to start the fourth set. The Bears took a tightly contested 3-2 lead to open the set, but that proved to be their final lead of the night as the Wahine proved to be too much. With the set tied at 4-4, Hawai‘i used a 10-2 run to finally pull ahead for good. Later in the set, trailing 19-9, the Bears made a brief 3-0 run to cut the lead to single digits, but the Wahine brutally responded with a 3-0 run of their own to suck the life out of Northern Colorado. Hawai‘i faced no further trouble from the Bears, taking a 25-15 set four win and the match along with it.
With the win, the Hawai‘i advances to the NCAA round of 32. The Rainbow Wahine will take on No. 20 San Diego at the Stan Sheriff Center on Dec. 7 at 7 p.m. HST.