It was close but no cigar as the University of Hawai‘i women’s volleyball team’s season officially comes to an end. The 12th-seeded Rainbow Wahine (26-4, 14-2 Big West Conference) fell just short in closely contested straight sets (27-29, 22-25, 19-25) to the 5th-seeded Nebraska Cornhuskers in the NCAA Tournament regional semifinal.
The resurgent 2019 squad, who also saw their 13-match win streak snapped, wrapped up the deepest Wahine run in three years. The team hasn’t made the Sweet 16 since the 2015 season, and the first since head coach Robyn Ah Mow took over for Dave Shoji.
Redshirt junior Brooke Van Sickle tied for the match lead with a career-best 14 kills. Senior McKenna Ross joined her in the double-digit kills club with 10, while senior Norene Iosia and freshman Hanna Hellvig each finished with 6. Iosia also picked up 19 assists and 13 digs to once again finished with a double-double.
The Wahine didn’t wait long to score their first regional round point since 2015, as redshirt junior Brooke Van Sickle put down the opening kill of the match. A UH error quickly tied it up, the first 4 ties in the early portion of the set. With the score tied at 4-4, Hawai‘i finally created some space with a 4-1 run. The battle continued, with the ‘Bows eventually opening up a three point advantage. Leading 16-13, Hawai‘i fell victim to a 4-0 Huskers run, fueled by back-to-back service aces, as Nebraska took their first lead of the match. Kills from Hellvig and senior McKenna Ross gave the lead back to the Wahine, but the Cornhuskers again tied it up at 21-21. The ‘Bows later took the first set point chance on a kill by freshman middle blocker Amber Igiede. They couldn’t capitalize however, as a well-timed Nebraska timeout drew a service error from Iosia to send the match into a deuce. A block by the Manoa Roofing Company later gave Hawai‘i another set point at 27-26, but the team fell victim to a 3-0 Nebraska run as the Huskers claimed set one 29-27. Van Sickle led the way with a match-best 7 kills in the opening set.
After gifting Hawai‘i the early set two lead with a service error, Nebraska stormed back with six straight scores to take control early. Hellvig and Ross combined to help dig Hawai‘i out of the hole, but couldn’t cut far into the deficit. Another Huskers service error set off four quick UH scores, but the run fell just short of tying the game. Hawai‘i did eventually tie the set with another 3-0 run, before taking the lead with a service ace by Igiede. Clinging to a 17-16 lead, the ‘Bows once again ceded the advantage with a 5-0 Nebraska run. With the Huskers reaching set point first this time around, the Wahine hoped to send the match back into a deuce with a 3-0 run to make it 24-22, but a UH reach over the net ended the short-lived rally as the Huskers claimed a 25-22 set two win.
With the season nearing its end, the Wahine ceded three straight scores to Nebraska to open the third set. A 3-0 UH run to cut the deficit to one was matched by a three-score run from the Huskers. Not to be deterred, the ‘Bows put down four straight kills to tie the score up at 8-8. The traded runs set off a closely contested volley of scores, with neither side willing to give up an inch. After Van Sickle’s kill to cut the deficit to 20-18, Nebraska put the match away with a 4-0 run to bring up match point. Freshman Tiffany Westerberg’s kill briefly halted the run, but Husker junior Lexi Sun put down her 14th kill of the match to send Nebraska through to the regional finals.
This match wraps up the careers of the Wahine’s five-member senior class. Seniors Norene Iosia, Rika Okino, McKenna Ross, Bailey Choy, and Kirsten Sibley were sent off with their first ever Sweet 16 appearance for UH, after joining the team in 2016 (Choy transferred to UH for her final season).