Sometimes, two setters are better than one. That certainly proved true for the University of Hawaiʻi women’s volleyball team on Saturday at the Stan Sheriff Center. After falling behind 2-0 to the Cal State Fullerton Titans, the Rainbow Wahine turned to the seldom used two-setter formation. With senior Bailey Choy acting as primary setter, Norene Iosia picked up a season high 9 kills to lead the ‘Bows all the way back in the five-set thriller. The final set scores were: 22-25, 20-25, 25-23, 25-15, 15-12.
"We definitely did not practice that," Iosia said of the two-setter formation. "Coach (Robyn Ah Mow) came in the locker room, looked at me, and said 'you're hitting.' I'd done it last year, but I haven't gotten reps (with the formation) this year in practice. But when she calls on me, I'm going to do the best I can."
Iosia’s 9 kills nearly gave her a triple-double, as she also finished with 26 assists and 17 digs. She was one of three ‘Bows to finish with a double-double. Choy racked up 28 assists and 16 digs, both of which were season highs. Meanwhile, freshman outside hitter Hanna Hellvig put down a team-leading 16 kills and 20 digs.
With the taste of Friday’s defeat clearly still lingering, the Wahine got off to a slow start in set one. Despite claiming the first point on a Titan error, Hawaiʻi soon fell behind following a 6-1 Cal State Fullerton run. The ‘Bows eventually fought back to tie the game up at 10. However, the Titans put down any attempted rally, as Hawaiʻi never again retook the lead. Trailing 24-19 and with Cal State Fullerton standing at match point, the Wahine staged a brief 3-0 comeback bid. The rally ultimately fell three points short, as the Titans took the final point to clinch the 25-22 opening set victory. Prior to the match, Hawaiʻi had not lost a home set to Cal State Fullerton since 2012, snapping a 39 home set-win streak.
"I had no idea what was happening," head coach Robyn Ah Mow said of the early set struggles. "I don't know if its a confidence issue or an effort issue. We're trying to find out right now, obviously. We went with three different lineups tonight."
Hoping to put the loss behind them, the ‘Bows started set two with a 4-2 run to take the early lead, before extending the lead to 10-6. Things fell apart from there. Cal State Fullerton quickly evened things up at 11-11 with a 5-1 run. Things went from bad to worse for the ‘Bows, as the Titans then began to pull away. For the second set in a row, Fullerton was the first team to reach 20 points. The Rainbow Wahine eventually reached the threshold themselves, but not before giving up 5 points to the Titans as the underdogs pulled ahead to a 2-0 match lead following the 25-20 set win.
With their backs firmly against the wall, Hawaiʻi hoped some lineup changes would spark a comeback, as freshman outside hitter Braelynn Akana checked into the game for just the second time this season. Despite the changes, the Wahine fell into an early 5-1 hole. Hawaiʻi fought back, but still trailed 12-10. Desperately needing a win to stay alive, the Wahine turned to the seldom used double-setter formation. In response, Norene Iosia picked up 3 kills to lead the ‘Bows all the way back. The 25-23 set three win prevented a Titan sweep, and sent the game into set four.
"Norene (Iosia) hasn't hit one ball since we started two-a-days," Ah Mow said. "She's a baller. She comes to play every game."
Led by a healthy dose of Akana and the two-setter formation, the Rainbow Wahine put down their best performance of the night. Hawaiʻi blitzed the Titans to take an early 4-0 lead. The run prompted a Fullerton timeout. The stoppage had no effect however, as the ‘Bows quickly pushed the lead to 12-7. Another Titan timeout proved fruitless as well. Late in the set, holding a 24-15 lead, Akana put down a cross-court kill to force a fifth set for the second straight night. Akana and Hellvig led the ‘Bows with 4 kills each, while Iosia picked up 2 more kills to bring her tally to 5 in the 25-15 set four win.
"The coaches are always telling us to be ready, to be the next man up," Akana said of her relief performance. "We can literally pick anyone off the bench and they'd be ready to go. We all have the same goal."
The ‘Bows momentum flowed well into the final set. The Wahine lent the early lead to Fullerton after giving up the opening point as Hellvig was blocked. Fellow freshman Amber Igiede quickly slammed the brakes on a potential Titan run to even the score. From that point on, Fullerton never regained the lead, and Hawaiʻi never looked back. The Titans later fought back with 4 unanswered points to cut the deficit to two. The run stopped there however, as the ‘Bows took care of business for the 15-12 set win, completing the reverse sweep.
After a 1-1 homestand, Hawaiʻi heads back out on the road as conference play continues. After unexpectedly dropping five sets this weekend, the team will have plenty to discuss before next weekend’s games.
"It starts with practice," Iosia said. "Just bringing the same intensity to the gym. If that means screaming at each other to get the job done, that's what we're going to do. We can't afford to lose any more matches."
The Rainbow Wahine head to California to take on Cal Poly at the Mott Athletic Center on Oct. 11 at 4 p.m. HST.