A fifth set seemed like destiny.
Just 15 points into Monday’s match, it was all but predetermined Azusa Pacific and UH-Hilo would go the distance.
When they inevitably got there, another near-certainty manifested itself: Emily Wade was bringing the wrath. The freshman middle blocker smacked a career-high 24 kills as the Vulcans outlasted Azusa Pacific 20-25, 25-12, 24-26, 25-17, 15-11 in front of an energetic late afternoon crowd of 633 at the their gym.
“I thought it was really nice being able to know damn near every time that I hit that I was going to get a kill, and that I was going get set,” Wade said. “It felt nice to be on fire.”
That 11-match winning streak was nice, but now we’re getting somewhere. UHH (17-5, 12-2 Pacific West Conference) made it an even dozen with its best win of the season, leapfrogging Azusa (16-4, 10-2) for second place in the conference and completing a 7-0 homestand.
The match began at 4 p.m. and the crowd certainly seemed like it enjoyed a happy hour or two.
“I think the crowd helped give us momentum,” said Wade, who hit .478 with just two errors and changed the Cougars’ approach with nine blocks. “It really helps when we have a lot of people come. We can get into the opponent’s head and be aggressive.”
Azusa likely would have left with a Hawaii sweep – the Cougars didn’t drop a set in beating Chaminade and Hawaii Pacific – if not for UHH’s middles. Wade is a domineering presence at 6 feet 3, inches with length to spare, but she didn’t hold a monopoly in the middle. Fifth-year senior Armani Moultrie got into the fun as well with 16 kills on .389 hitting.
“It’s amazing, the past couple of years I haven’t necessarily been starting but I keep getting these opportunities,” Moultrie said, “and you better believe I’m taking these opportunities with heart and I’m just go all out for it.”
The Vuls never trailed in the fifth set after the Cougars’ eight service error put UHH ahead 6-5.
Alexander Parisian came through with two big kills to help the Vuls get to 9-7, Wade had a hand in two blocks to make it 11-8, and by that point everyone could see what was coming: Wade’s kills accounted for three of the four final points of the match, including aloha ball.
A kill and a stuff by Moultrie ended UHH’s resurgent fourth set.
“Honestly, I like to think of ourselves as the comeback kids,” she said. “We always have those moments when we’re down, and the next thing you know we’re banging it. We’re playing with heart, we’re playing with together and staying aggressive.”
Annaka Jorgenson compiled 21 kills for Azusa Pacific, which was outhit (71-60, .239-.185), outdug (97-93), outblocked (24-17) and had only one ace.
Outside hitter Bria Beale had 12 kills with 11 errors and 15 digs for UHH, senior libero Kaila Lizama posted a career-high 35 digs and freshman setter Kendall Kott finished with seven blocks, four kills, 13 digs and 59 assists.
For good reason, Kott went to Wade as much as Beale. Each took 46 swings, while Moultrie made 36 attempts. Parisian, an opposite hitter, tallied six kills.
“We won in serve and pass, and (Azusa) was one of the best serve-and-pass teams coming in,” coach Chris Leonard said. “To get 82 attempts from the middle is a lot of attempts in the middle and it means the passing has to be spot-on to do that. We missed out on a few plays on defense, but we figured out how to get them when we needed them.”
Azusa won the first six points of the match, forcing Leonard to use a timeout, but the Vuls fought right back. Down a set, the Vuls dominated Game 2 and something about the affair just screamed five-set marathon.
“We know that we can compete with all the teams in our league, and that was a good test for us,” Leonard said. “But now we have to go on the road and run the gauntlet through the top half of our league starting with the only two teams who have beat us in conference (Hawaii Pacific and Chaminade).”