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Volleyball: Vuls survive upset bid; Wahine face must-wins

The UH-Hilo volleyball team battled past upset-minded Dominican and road-trip fatigue to win its fifth straight on Thursday in San Rafael, Calif.

The Vulcans scored a 22-25, 25-15, 25-20, 18-25, 15-11 win, playing their fourth match in six days.

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UHH lived up to its reputation as the top-blocking team in the conference and outblocked the Penguins, 19-5. Ahston Jessee had 7.5 stuffs for the Vuls (17-5, 13-3 PacWest).

Alexandria Parisian had 14 kills and hit .316, Bria Beale added 10 kills and 19 digs for a double-double, and Mina Grant had a match-high 22 digs. Basia Sauni had 11 digs and Teisa Tuioti added 10 digs.

In the fifth set, UH-Hilo broke an 8-8 tie with three straight points. A Parisian kill made it 14-11 and Armani Moultrie finished the evening with a blast from the middle.

Kate Even had 18 kills to lead the Penguins (6-15, 4-12), who hit .133.

Wahine have no margin for error

It’s make or heartbreak week for Hawaii. The postseason hopes of the Rainbow Wahine ride into the Stan Sheriff Center with two critical Big West volleyball matches, both NCAA-bid important, the first perhaps more so: Friday’s showdown with No. 11 Cal Poly.

The Mustangs (19-1, 9-0) hold a half-game lead over the Wahine (13-6, 9-1) in the standings having defeated Hawaii in four sets 20 days ago in San Luis Obispo, Calif. It was the third straight victory by the Mustangs over the Wahine, and the 13th consecutive time that Hawaii fell to a Top 25 team dating back to the 2015 NCAA tournament regional final.

Given Hawaii’s low Ratings Percentage Index rank (currently 75) there is basically no hope for an at-large bid. The Wahine must win out, and that includes notching a sweep of the Mustangs on Friday.

Should the teams finish tied for the Big West title, the first tiebreaker is sets won-lost.

Not that Cal Poly doesn’t want to sweep the series with Hawaii for a second straight season, but the Mustangs likely don’t need it if they were looking at an at-large bid. Cal Poly, whose only loss came on opening weekend at current No. 5 Pitt (22-0), has an RPI of 18. The Mustangs’ goal is to remain high enough in order to get a top-16 seed and host the NCAA’s opening rounds.

“It’s a big match for both teams,” Cal Poly coach Sam Crosson said in a telephone interview on Tuesday, “and I think it’s a fair statement to say it’s bigger for Hawaii in terms of who it’s more important for.

“I don’t want to get ahead when seeing the NCAAs and selection based on Friday’s outcome. Our focus is to stay the course, continue to be consistent. Hawaii is one of the best defensive teams and there’s a mentality that comes with that when not getting frustrated by balls that are normally down for kills coming back up.

“I think it’s going to be an awesome match. It’s exciting to have the top two teams playing in the environment that Hawaii has. Hopefully the fans will show up and pack the arena.”

The Wahine know there is more pressure on them. Not only are they contending with Cal Poly on Friday but also UC Santa Barbara (13-9, 5-5) on Saturday, the latter considered a trap game against the rested Gauchos whose last match was a 3-2 victory at Cal State Northridge last Saturday.

“It is what it is,” Wahine coach Robyn Ah Mow-Santos said of the schedule that has her team being the lone match for an opponent on most weeks. “It’s like a few weeks ago where we were at (UCSB) then had a bus ride to play (Cal Poly) the next day.

“What are you going to do? The only thing we can is be ready. It’s a big game. It’s important for us in order to continue the season. Pressure? I guess it’s more for us.”

The Wahine feel they were “right there” in the 25-19, 25-18, 21-25, 27-25 loss in Mott Athletics Center, a contest that had several controversial calls that went against Hawaii, the last a back-row blocker call on setter Norene Iosia on what many believed was a legal 50-50 ball. The bottom line, however, were the 41 errors (31 hitting, 10 serving) Hawaii gave away to the Mustangs in a tight match.

“It’s not like they blew us away,” Ah Mow-Santos said. “Get rid of all our errors and there’s a difference.

“Can we take care of them? Yes. But we have to take care care of what we do. If we can get them out of system, defend and convert, we can create points on our side.”

The Mustangs, winners of 18 straight, are off to their best start in program history. They are led by junior hitter Torrey Van Winden, who tops the Big West in hitting percentage (.376) and is third in kill average (.504 kps).

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Van Winden’s older sister, Adlee, is No. 8 in the conference (3.04 kps). The sisters are the nieces of former Wahine player Lisa Strand-Ma’a and cousins of former SandBow All-American Katie Spieler.

Saturday’s match features UCSB junior hitter Lindsey Ruddins whose 5.48 kps leads the Big West and ranks second nationally. It also will have the top two liberos in conference in Hawaii senior Tita Akiu (4.81 dps) and UCSB senior Emilia Petrachi (4.80 dps). Ruddins had just 16 kills, hitting .043, in the five-set loss to the Wahine on Oct. 5.