UH-Hilo jumped over the trap door with relative ease, clobbering Fresno Pacific to remain in the hunt for a PacWest postseason berth.
The Vulcans defeated the Sunbirds 25-15, 25-21, 19-25, 25-19 on Wednesday night at UHH gym, setting the stage for their most important road trip of the season and reaching the 20-win plateau.
“Before the match, we talked about that less than 5 percent of the teams in the country have 20 wins,” UHH coach Gene Krieger said. “That was our first objective to get 20 wins, and our argument for the next (West region) poll would be how can you keep a team with 20 wins out? That’s a big deal for basketball and volleyball because of the number of games.”
UHH has now won two in a row but needs to beat Hawaii Pacific on Friday and Chaminade on Saturday to secure a comfortable spot in the West region rankings poll, which helps determine the eight-team playoffs.
“If we win, we’re in” Krieger said.
The Vuls beat the Sharks in four sets on Oct. 7 and lost to the Silverswords in four sets a day earlier at home.
UHH has one day to study game film and prepare for rested HPU, which last played on Friday, and Chaminade, ranked No. 7 in the poll, a potential showdown for the conference’s last postseason spot.
The Vuls are 11th.
The ’Swords play the Sunbirds on Friday. So maybe the match between UHH and Chaminade will be a battle of attrition and firepower. In the first meeting, Chaminade had far more kills, 66-40.
As usual, the Vuls (20-6, 16-4 PacWest) relied on their best weapons — blocking and balance — to take care of business against the Sunbirds (7-22, 6-14) in their last home match.
UHH outblocked Fresno Pacific, 13-2, behind Ashton Jessee’s five stuffs. Bria Beale put up career-high numbers to carry the offense: 20 kills on 40 swings, a .400 average, and 15 digs for a double-double.
Jessee added 11 kills and hit .476, and Alexandria Parisian had nine kills and hit .400 for the Vuls, who finished with a .284 hitting clip.
Carly Bock had 15 kills, and Madison Pierce added 13 kills for the Sunbirds, who hit .201.
In the 25-15 first set, Fresno Pacific scored six straight to grab a 14-12 lead, but UHH punctured that bubble of enthusiasm with an 11-0 run. Beale put down game point to cap a solid opening set: six kills, a .500 average on 10 swings.
UHH scored a bunch of points the easy way with four aces and three blocks in Game 2 and didn’t allow the Sunbirds to jump on a scoring run with a 72 percent sideout rate.
There weren’t any moments of apprehension where the Vuls thought, “We might be in trouble,” until the third set.
The Sunbirds have no shot at a winning season, but that didn’t mean they were going to go quietly into the night. They hit .243, and UHH hit .132, serving as a good reminder if rhythm goes missing the opposition is waiting to capitalize.
Krieger took the Game 3 loss as a good thing.
“It was competitive so that should help us,” he said. “We’re the No. 1 blocking team in the conference but we had six net calls so we have something to work on. Bria was money. She had her best performance of the season with 20 kills and 40 attempts.”
In the fourth set, Beale pounded six kills, UHH clobbered balls at .273 percentage, and it wasn’t all that close.
“My mindset is always to get a kill on my first swing,” she said. “If not, on my secondary swing I want to hit it over and a place where they get out of system. We’ve been picking it up on our blocking and defense, and our offense shined.”
Then Beale echoed her coach.
“We win, we’re in,” she said. “We’ll take it one game at a time, one play at a time. We’ll prepare well.”