HONOLULU — If only there were a crowd.
As it is, the roar that would have followed Hawaii’s emphatic double block to cap a first-set comeback against Long Beach State on Friday lives only in the imagination with fans still barred from SimpliFi Arena at Stan Sheriff Center.
Even so, the Rainbow Wahine drew energy from the rally on their way to a 26-24, 25-16, 25-21 sweep in their eighth straight win over their longtime conference rival.
“Oh my gosh, it was really exciting,” said UH middle blocker Amber Igiede, who teamed with setter Kate Lang on the block that closed out the opening set. “I was really excited. The team was excited. A crowd would have been really nice.”
After Long Beach State bolted to a 15-9 lead behind a barrage from heavy-hitting outside hitter Kashauna Williams, the Big West kills leader entering the match, the Rainbow Wahine closed the gap, then surged to a 6-1 run to close the set.
They dominated the second set and again pulled away late in the third to improve to 3-0 in Big West play and 6-5 overall to climb above.500 for the first time since going 2-1 on the season’s opening weekend.
“I told them in the locker room the one big takeaway for tonight was they stuck with it,” UH coach Robyn Ah Mow said.
After hitting for a negative percentage about midway through the first set, UH finished the night at.349, led by senior Brooke Van Sickle’s 15 kills on.324 hitting.
Van Sickle entered the week second in the conference in kills per set behind Williams and had ample production around her.
Sophomore Riley Wagoner finished with 11 kills in 22 swings and Braelyn Akana put away seven of her 18 attempts. Lang (37 assists, 11 digs) also fed Skyler Williams for eight kills in the middle, with Igiede finishing with six.
The Wahine were eventually able to slow down Kashauna Williams, who had nine kills in the first set but just five the rest of the way with 12 errors. Freshman Eryka Lovett led the Beach with 15 kills and hit.438 for LBSU (7-8, 1-3).
“I think we just had to take care of our blocking assignments,” Skyler Williams said. “I think we just had to remind ourselves to be disciplined.”
It appeared Kashauna Williams was on her way to a big night as the Beach rolled to a commanding lead in the first set. Her ninth kill of the set gave the Beach a 23-20 lead before Igiede, who was 0-for-3 with an error at that point, hammered her first kill of the night.
After a Kashauna Williams error, Wagoner’s attempt from the left side rolled along the tape and fell in to tie the set 23-23 and prompt a Long Beach State timeout.
Williams got a kill off the block to give the Beach set point, but Lang again fed Igiede in the middle to force deuce and UH earned set point when Williams hit long. The Beach went to Williams again, and this time Igiede and Lang were there to send it back and give the Wahine the set.
“Hawaii did a lot of good things strategically or defensively and executed a little bit better and made us do things that we talked about that we didn’t want to do,” Long Beach State coach Joy McKienzie-Fuerbringer said.
“Some of it was serving and passing, but also bettering the ball and making better choices. We had them, we let them in a little bit and didn’t close out the game.”
UH rolled the momentum into the second set and back-to-back kills by Igiede gave the Wahine a 10-4 lead as they cruised to a 2-0 lead in the match. The Wahine went on to hit.484 in the set with just one hitting error, while LBSU misfired throughout the set and had nine hitting errors in an.086 performance.
The teams traded sideouts for much of the third set and UH led 20-19 before going on a 4-0 run on consecutive kills by Wagoner, an ace from Tayli Ikenaga and Akana’s seventh kill. Lovett fought off two match points before Wagoner closed out the match.
As the teams left the arena, McKienzie-Fuerbringer, a former LBSU setter, was also struck by the atmosphere or lack thereof.
“I’ve been coming in and out of here for 20-something years and to not have the aunties there, and just the crowd coming in and it was very interesting doing (‘Hawaii Ponoi’) with nobody in the gym, ” she said. “It is what it is and we all have to adjust. Although we do miss the fans it’s just something we have to do at this time.
“The bummer is Hawaii has so many great fans, they just love volleyball. Not having that and that energy was definitely missed.”