In front of a raucous crowd at the Stan Sheriff Center on Friday night, the University of Hawai’i women’s volleyball team (1-0) came back from down 2-1 sets to clinch a five set upset victory over No. 21 San Diego Toreros. The set results were: 25-19, 20-25, 16-25, 15-10.
“I’m proud of the way they came out,” head coach Robyn Ah Mow said. “We had a bunch of young girls out on the court. We have talent, but we needed to know if they could gel on the court. I think they showed their answer. Their character and their fight, coming back in the fourth and fifth (sets).”
The defense was a big factor, out-blocking San Diego 15-5. The game also saw the emergence of several new faces. Oregon transfer Jolie Rasmussen finished with a game-high 19 kills, with a .390 hitting percentage. Freshman outside hitter Hanna Hellvig was not far behind with 13 kills on the night, while fellow Oregon transfer Brooke Van Sickle came up with 12 kills and a .440 hitting percentage. She also finished with 14 digs, tied for the team lead with veteran Norene Iosia.
“They're great girls,” Ah Mow said of transfers Rasmussen and Van Sickle. “Great athletes. All-around players. They can pass, hit, play defense.”
The Rainbow Wahine drew first blood, as freshman middle blocker Amber Igiede quickly made her presence felt with the first kill of the game. Another freshman, Hellvig, got in on the action with a kill of her own to give the ‘Bows an early 2-0 lead. The advantage was quickly lost however, as Iosia’s service error and a San Diego kill evened the game. From then on, neither team could grab the advantage, trading points. With the score tied at 5 apiece, senior transfer Bailey Choy checked into the game for the Wahine. Choy immediately left her mark on the game with her first UH service ace on the very next play. Holding a slim 15-14 lead, the Rainbow Wahine went on a 20-5 run, led by back-to-back service aces from Iosia, to claim their first set win of the season 25-18. Hellvig led the way with the ‘Bows with a game-high 5 kills in the set, with Van Sickle not far behind with 4 kills.
In the second set, the ‘Bows fell into an early lead and couldn’t seem to dig themselves out. The Rainbow Wahine refused to quit however. Trailing 17-11, the Wahine clawed back to within 4 points with a 9-7. The comeback bid wasn’t enough though, as the Toreros scored the final point to even the gae at 1-1 with a 25-20 set two win. Hellvig again led the ‘Bows with 5 kills, adding to her tally of a game-high 10 kills through two sets.
The teams traded blows early in set three, with neither side willing to give up an inch. However, aided by a stream of Hawai’i errors, the Toreros eventually ran out to a 12-6 lead. For a while, the Wahine were able to keep the San Diego lead in check, as Van Sickle and Hellvig combined for the ‘Bows’ 7th block of the night to keep the deficit at 4 points. Hawai’i was unable to close the gap though, resulting in the Toreros pulling away with a 21-6 run to clinch the set three victory 25-16. With the win, San Diego pulled ahead 2-1 with a chance to end the game in set four.
With their backs against the wall, the Rainbow Wahine were determined not to repeat their past mistakes, jumping out to a quick 9-4 lead and forcing a San Diego timeout. Newcomers Rasmussen, Riley Wagoner, and Van Sickle all stepped up with 6, 5 and 4 kills respectively to lead the Wahine on a tightly contested 16-15 run to clinch a 25-19 victory in set four. The set win knotted the game up at 2-2, forcing a set 5. The ‘Bows defense came up with 4 blocks in the set.
Spurred on by the momentum of their big set four win, jumped out to an early 4-2 lead on a block by Wagoner and freshman outside hitter Tiffany Westerberg. Rasmussen joined in on the block party with a solo block to bring the Wahine’s lead to 6-3. Holding a slim 7-5 lead, transfer Kyra Hanawahine was inserted into the game for the first time. The move paid immediate dividends, as sheimmediately sparked the team to a 3-0 run, including a service ace from Hanawahine. The ‘Bows increased its lead to 11-7 on a San Diego hitting error, and the team never looked back, locking up the 15-10 set victory and completing the comeback upset win over the Toreros.
“I think that’s huge,” Ah Mow said of Hanawahine’s performance in set five. “She hadn’t played in four sets…I thought she played awesome (in set five). She came in and got some aces in there, played some defense, she was awesome.”
The win gives the Rainbow Wahine its first win of the season, marking the first season-opening victory in Ah Mow’s three year tenure with Hawai’i. The Hawaiian Airlines Rainbow Wahine Classic continues for the ‘Bows as they face a visit from St. Johns.
The Wahine will take on St. Johns at the Stan Sheriff Center on Aug. 31st at 7:00 pm HST.