RENO - Yes, there is a reason why Dave Shoji was named Western Athletic Conference volleyball coach of the year, and there is a reason why Hawai'i is enjoying its 30th consecutive season with a winning record under Shoji. The Rainbow Wahine know how to perform at crunch time, as they showed Sunday afternoon with a four-set triumph against Nevada in the WAC Tournament championship match before an announced crowd of 1,364 at the Virginia Street Gym.
Hawaii, now 26-0 and in line to move up to No. 1 in the national rankings, won the match 30-21, 28-30, 30-22, 30-27 to secure its fifth straight WAC Tournament championship.
Nevada (20-8) was fired up about the prospect of playing the tournament final at home after going the five-game distance in two regular season meetings against the undefeated Rainbow Wahine, most recently a battle that went to the wire last Saturday in Honolulu. The Rainbow Wahine were pretty excited about playing themselves.
"I thought this was one of our better matches of the year. Every phase of our game was going well," said Shoji, whose team grabbed an automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament. "They had a lot of motivation. There was a good crowd and Nevada had pushed us before, so I think they wanted to show who the better team was.
Tournament MVP Victoria Prince echoed those words.
"We were so fired up for this game," Prince said. "We didn't want to take it to five games this time. We came out hard the first game. We lost the second, but we were able to put it away in the third and fourth."
The 6-foot junior played big throughout this match with 16 kills, seven blocks and two service aces. She hit for a .577 percentage in the match - .857 with six kills in Game 1.
Hawai'i got double-double performances from Susie Boogard, who delivered a match-high 19 kills and 10 digs, while Alicia Arnott had 17 kills and 11 digs. Ashley Watanabe contributed 11 digs and a WAC Tournament single-match record five aces, and setter Kanoe Kamana'o handed out 55 assists. Boogard had four kills during a 9-1 run that put Hawai'i in charge in Game 1, plus she had two kills and two blocks during a 9-0 run that broke up an 18-18 struggle in the pivotal third game.
Salaia Salave'a gave Nevada another strong all-around performance, as the junior middle blocker put down 18 kills (hitting .268) to go with six digs and five blocks (one solo). Carly Sorensen added 11 kills, while freshmen Teal Ericson and Karly Sipherd added 11 and 10 respectively. Karen Adams, the only senior in the team's starting lineup, had 10 blocks, six kills, six digs and a service ace that gave Nevada a 29-26 lead in Game 2. Sipherd had a kill to close out the Game 2 victory. Sophomore setter Tristin Adams, who has battled tendinitis in both knees late in the season, contributed 47 assists and seven digs.
Salave'a, Sipherd and Tristin Adams represented Nevada on the all-tournament team.
The Wolf Pack found success with tips and dinks in their two regular season meetings, but that wasn't the case Sunday.
"I think Hawai'i made some very good adjustments," Nevada coach Devin Scruggs said. "Dave's coach of the year for a reason. They decided they weren't going to give us the dinks and tips. They have the depth to make the adjustments, and unfortunately, we don't have the depth to make the adjustments we needed."
No wonder Shoji has compiled a 866-149-1 coaching record at Hawai'i, including four national titles, and trips to the NCAA Final Four the last two years.
"That's one big adjustment we made - and we should have learned from the first time we played here (on Oct. 2)," Shoji said. "We decided to try and take that away and not let them have anything cheap. What that did was make them hit the ball hard to get it down."
Hawai'i is the only undefeated team remaining among the nation's major powers after No. 1 Washington lost a five-game showdown at Stanford on Thursday night, putting the Rainbow Wahine in position to move up from their No. 2 spot. That could prove to be favorable for the Wolf Pack to receive an at-large invitation to the NCAA Tournament.
"I hope we can qualify three out of the WAC, and looking around the country at the bubble teams, I think Nevada and Rice are both deserving," Shoji said, adding that a key for the Wolf Pack could be winning the University of Pacific's Bankers Classic in Stockton on Friday and Saturday.
However, there could be consequences for all of this success. Just remember, this was the third straight year Nevada has hosted the WAC Tournament.
"I've seen tremendous improvement (at Nevada) the last three years," said Shoji, whose Rainbow Wahine defeated Nevada for the WAC Tournament title in 2002. "And looking at their roster, with only two seniors, I think they're going to be a team to reckon with for the next two or three years, at least.
"The thing is, I think the coaches are starting to take notice of how well they're playing, and we're starting to reconsider coming here for the tournament every year," he added, flashing a smile.
Contact Dave Price at email@example.com