The Rainbow Wahine volleyball team of the University of Hawai’i is set to open the 2019 season as it welcomes No. 21 San Diego, St. Johns and No. 13 Washington to Stan Sheriff Center for the 31st Hawaiian Airlines Rainbow Wahine Classic.
Fresh off of a 18-9 season, head coach Robyn Ah Mow returns for her third season at the head of the Wahine volleyball team. Under her leadership, the team finished second in the Big West Conference with a 14-2 record while making its 26th consecutive and 37th overall appearance in the NCAA Tournament.
The offseason saw the departures of many key players, as well as some new additions. One of the biggest losses came in the form of outside hitter McKenna Granato. Granato, who graduated last spring, led the team with 324 kills, 39 service aces, and 379.5 points during the 2018 season while starting all 27 matches. Granato finished her UH career ranked 19th in career kills, and was named to the all-Big West First Team for the second consecutive year. Another key contributor the team lost was setter/defensive specialist Faith Ma’afala, who led the team in 2018 with 652 assists. Ma’afala played in all 27 matches, and finished second on the team with 29 service aces and a fourth best 219 digs. Ma’afala will rejoin the team as its director of operations in 2019. The team also lost a key defensive force in middle hitter Natasha Burns, who finished with a team and career-high 93 blocks. Appearing in 24 matches, 23 of which she started, Burns finished second in the Big West with 1.07 blocks per set as she earned her first all-Big West First Team selection. Burns, who was a fourth year junior, exhausted her eligibility after the 2018 season. Along with those three, the team lost significant combined playing experience in the forms of players Tita Akiu, Casey Castillo, Angel Gaskin and Sarah Liva.
The only starter from 2018 to return is senior setter Norene Iosia. Iosia was a key player for the Rainbow Wahine last season, finishing second on the team with 212 kills, 477 assists, 301 digs, and 57 blocks. She With 27 appearances and 26 starts, Iosia racked up five triple-doubles, which tied for second most in the NCAA.
To fill the experience gap left by the graduating seniors, the Wahine added four Pac-12 transfers. A Honolulu native and a three-year varsity letter winner at Kamehameha-Kapalama, junior libero Kyra Hanawahine joined the team after spending 2 seasons at Oregon. Hanawahine led the Kamehameha Warriors to the state championship match three years in a row, with a title win in her junior season. She was named first-team all-state and all-league in both her junior and senior seasons. In 2 seasons for the Ducks, Hanawahine appeared in 14 matches and recorded 12 digs, 4 assists, and 2 service aces.
Another former Duck to join the Rainbow Wahine is redshirt-junior outside hitter Brooke Van Sickle. A Hilo native, Van Sickle spent her prep career at Battle Ground High School in Washington, where she lettered in volleyball, tennis, and basketball. She led her team to the state tournament for the first time in 25 years in 2014, and earned all-state first team honors in in 2014 and 2015. She also earned all-league honors all four years in high school. In two seasons with the Ducks, Van Sickle appeared in 67 matches with 30 starts. She finished her career at Oregon with 203 kills, 468 digs, and 42 service aces. She holds the second spot in the Oregon single-game record books with a 9 service ace performance against Portland State.
Rounding out the Oregon transfers is redshirt junior outside hitter Jolie Rasmussen. A graduate of Canyon Crest Academy in 2016, Rasmussen was voted all-San Diego section First Team and all-CIF in all four seasons, while earning all-league and all-section in her freshman year. Rasmussen played two seasons at Oregon and was twice named all-Pac-12 honorable mention. She appeared in 46 matches, starting in 41 of them, finishing with 386 kills, 215 digs and 34 service aces.
The final Pac-12 transfer was senior setter Bailey Choy. Born in Honolulu, Choy was a star player at ‘Iolani School. Racking up 574 assists, 197 digs and 15 service aces, Choy led the Raiders to the Division I state final in as a senior and was later named the Hawai’I Gatorade State Volleyball Player of the Year and Interscholastic League of Honolulu (ILH) Division I Player of the Year. She was also named the All-State Player of the Year by the Star-Advertiser. Choy was a three-year starter at Utah, starting 99 matches and recording 3,254 career assists with 860 digs, 47 blocks and 88 service aces. She led the Utes with 128 sets played, 1,096 assists, and 48 service aces as a junior. She also averaged .38 service aces per set that season, which was the top mark for the Pac-12.
In addition to the transfers, the team added 5 freshmen in outside hitters Riley Wagoner, Tiffany Westerberg, Braelyn Akana, Hanna Hellvig, and middle blocker Amber Igiede. With so many starters gone, plenty of spots will be up for grab in Friday’s season opener.
The Rainbow Wahine open the 2019 season against No. 21 San Diego at the Stan Sheriff Center on Aug. 30 at 7:00 pm HST.