The UH-Hilo volleyball team hits the road playing its first PacWest opponents, a really good one in Chaminade and a not so good one in Hawaii Pacific.
The Vulcans (3-1) play the Silverswords (10-2) on Saturday at McCabe Gym and the Sharks (1-7) at the Shark Tank on Sunday on Oahu, where both gyms will have no fans in attendance.
UHH and Chaminade tied in the preseason PacWest poll at No. 2, so it’s a measuring stick match, but coach Chris Leonard doesn’t discount anyone, even a team that’s way under .500.
“All of the matches are important for sure. This year, five for six teams can be in the hunt on any given night,” he said. “Chaminade has got a nice team, for sure. It’s a big matchup, not different from other years. Chaminade and Hilo are always big regardless of record.”
Chaminade’s top threat is 6-foot junior outside hitter Brooklen Pe’a, who occasionally hits from the right side and has a .205 attack average.
So, she’ll take swings against outside hitters Bria Beale, who’s 5-11, and primarily against opposite Alexandria Parisian, who’s 6-1.
UHH went 14-2 during the spring, including 6-1 against Chaminade. But the shortened coronavirus season had nothing on the line; there was no postseason.
OVERSET FOLLOWS:“She’s a good jumper and hits hard,” Leonard said. “We found a way to get it done in the spring. They’ve got a new setter, opposite and libero. Pe’a will be featured prominently. She’s their go-to player.”
The Silversword no longer will share McCabe Gym with Saint Louis, which built a new facility below the gym. New lockers were added above McCabe on the shared campus for Chaminade and Saint Louis.
“They’ve got a couple of new faces, and we’ve been able to watch them at the same tourney last week, even though we didn’t play them,” Leonard said. “We watched them a fair amount. We won’t look past HPU. We’re prepared for them as well.”
No one want the title of worst Hawaii team in the PacWest. But the Sharks are the front-runners and way ahead of the Vulcans and Silverswords.
HPU’s problem is the loss of its best players, especially Perla Escobar, a 5-9 hitter and first-team All-PacWest pick in 2019, like Beale.
“They’re young and have a new faces,” Leonard said. “They play at the old Saint Francis (High School) gym, above the Manoa campus. It’s smaller than our gym, and everything is different with no spectators.
“But we do a good job of creating our own noise every day with tough six on six practices. But it’s not the same when we have a big Vulcan crowd. It’s one of the best in the conference.”
It’s a weird situation with no fans, knowing the UH football team played at a full house at Oregon State while no fans in gyms are allowed in the state.
“We’re coaches and don’t get to make those decisions and follow the guidelines,” Leonard said. “If we have to play in an empty gym, so be it. We’ll prepare the same way. Hopefully, we’ll get to play in front of fans before the season is over.”
Leonard pointed out that the Vulcans have worked hard to fix their bread-and-butter ball-control.
“One of our goals is to be the best serving and serve-receive team in the conference,” he said. “If you can do both, you’ll be in every match. If you’re able to pass well, you can run your offense and make it harder for an opponent to defend you.”
It’s pretty obvious that serve-receive passing is the key to stopping a foe’s scoring runs. Conversely, a tough serving team can make an opponent far more predictable.
And as Leonard knows, Pe’a, who has 100 more swings than her next Silversword teammate, will be getting her share of sets, and the key is stopping her.