All season long, Norene Iosia has been flying up the program rankings for career service aces while playing for the University of Hawai‘i women’s volleyball team (19-3, 9-2 Big West Conference). It seems only fitting then, that the Rainbow Wahine’s five-set thriller against the UC Santa Barbara Gauchos ended on a service ace from the senior setter. The ace, her fourth of the game, proved to be the crucial point Hawai‘i needed. The final set scores were: 25-19, 22-25, 21-25, 25-18, 17-15.
“I want to kill this (serve),” Iosia recalled the thoughts running through her head during the final serve. “I just had to clear my head. I told myself, ‘F* it, rip it.’ Sometimes it goes, sometimes it doesn’t. Tonight it did.”
“That’s the kind of mentality you need to have,” head coach Robyn Ah Mow responded. “You can’t doubt yourself. Once you doubt yourself its over, so I’d rather have her have that kind of mentality of going in and hitting the sh*t out of that ball.”
Iosia now stands alone in fifth in Wahine volleyball’s record books for career service aces with 125. She entered the match in a tie with Aneli Cubi-Otineru. Iosia’s first service ace of the game, which came in set three, moved her past Cubi-Otineru. The next record for Iosia to topple lies in the hands of associate coach Angelica Ljundquist, who ranks fourth with 133 career service aces. Iosia ultimately racked up a double-double, with 33 assists and 16 digs. She came one kill shy of a triple-double, finishing with 9 kills.
Freshman outside hitter Hanna Hellvig led the team with 19 kills, including some clutch scores late in the match. This match held some added significance for Hellvig. For the first time this season, her parents made the long trip from Sweden to Hawai‘i to watch Hanna play. Their time was certainly rewarded, as her 19 kills in the thrilling victory was a career high for Hellvig.
“I think I stepped it up later in the game,” Hellvig said. “I was frustrated with the block in the beginning, but I worked out of it. I was happy with my performance. I really wanted to beat this team.”
As the game wore on, libero Rika Okino proved to be a defensive force. The redshirt junior racked up a career-high 25 digs, keeping the ball in the air and keeping the Wahine’s chances alive in the later sets.
“I’m glad that I could help the team out,” Okino said. “When we’re down, keeping that ball alive is encouraging for my teammates to go up there and rip the nets.”
For the Gauchos, senior Lindsay Ruddins erupted for a season-high 27 kills. She also picked up 14 digs to complete her double-double.
Freshman middle blocker Amber Igiede got things rolling early for the Wahine with the opening kill of the match. The advantage was quickly lost with a Gauchos kill and block. The seesaw continued, as Hawai‘i reclaimed the lead with their own kill and block sequence. Santa Barbara fought back to tie the set a few times, but the Wahine controlled the remainder of the set. Up 19-16, a Hellvig kill set off a 5-3 run as Hawai’i closed out set one with a 25-19 win. Skyler Williams and McKenna Ross led the team with 4 kills each in the set.
Looking to bounce back, Santa Barbara opened set two with a 5-2 run to take the early lead. The Gauchos advantage eventually grew to 9-7, but three straight errors handed Hawai‘i the lead. Santa Barbara became the first team to reach 20 points, but the Wahine weren’t far behind. Hawai’i soon put down their 20th point as well to pull within one, but a 5-2 Gauchos run quickly ended the set 25-22 to even up the game at one set apiece. Hellvig led the team with 4 kills in the set.
Santa Barbara again took the early lead with a block and a kill. A 4-0 UH run, including Iosia’s service ace, gave Hawai‘i the lead, which it held onto for some time. However, with the ‘Bows holding a slim 11-9 lead, the Gauchos flipped the script with five straight points, four of which came on kills, to retake the lead 14-11. The sequence set off a flurry of scoring streaks from both teams. A 3-0 Hawai‘i run to tie the game was followed by a 4-0 UCSB run. Another 3-0 ‘Bows run led to yet another 5-0 run by the Gauchos. The final scoring run came in the form of three straight Wahine points, but Santa Barbara scored two of the final three points to claim the 25-21 set three win and take a 2-1 lead. Hellvig again led the team with 4 kills in the set to put her in double-digits through three.
For the first time since the first set, the Wahine opened set four with the lead on back-to-back kills by Igiede and junior outside hitter Brooke Van Sickle. The teams then traded kills before a 3-0 run gave the Gauchos their first lead of the set. Hawai‘i came back to tie the game at five all, but a 4-0 UCSB run again flipped the advantage. Tied 16-16 late, a Wahine service error gave Santa Barbara an important lead heading into the set’s final stretch. However, the Gauchos return ed the favor with a service error of their own. The score proved to be the catalyst of a 7-0 run, paced by Iosia’s 6 service scoring run. The run included Iosia’s second service ace of the match. UCSB briefly broke up the run with a kill, but the Wahine knocked down the final two points on a kill and a block for the 25-18 victory. The set four win sent the match into a fifth and final set. Igiede finished with a team-high 4 kills in the crucial set.
Despite losing the opening point to the ‘Bows, Santa Barbara ran out to a promising 4-2 lead to start the set. The Wahine fought back however, tying up the set at 5 apiece. The two teams continued to battle in a tightly contested final set that kept fans at the edge of their seats. Hawai‘i eventually emerged with a 14-13 lead, giving them their first Aloha Ball opportunity. The Gauchos refused to be put down easily, with a well-placed block to force a deuce. Iosia put down a kill for the second Aloha Ball chance, but a UCSB setter dump again forced a deuce. Amber Igiede set down a kill to send Iosia to the service line with the ‘Bows’ third Aloha Ball opportunity. Iosia responded with her fourth service ace of the match to secure the Wahine’s thrilling five-set victory
With the win, Hawai‘i moves to 19-3 on the season. It also gives them a 9-2 conference record as the ‘Bows move one step closer to reclaiming the Big West Conference lead. On Sunday, they play host to current conference leader Cal Poly, who assumed sole possession of first place after the fall of UCSB.
“Every game is critical, but especially these,” Ah Mow said. “We need to win these two games. We’ve won one. Cherish this one for five minutes, then we have to look to the next game.”
The Rainbow Wahine return to the Stan Sheriff Center on Nov. 3 at 5 p.m. HST to take on Cal Poly in a fight for Big West supremacy.