Hawaii women’s volleyball: Braelyn Akana rises to desperate occasion

Braelyn Akana slammed down a point during the fifth set against Cal State Fullerton. / Photo by Andrew Lee, Special to the Star-Advertiser

Another disaster was nigh.

Hawaii, which had its foundations rocked by UC Irvine’s reverse sweep of the Rainbow Wahine on Friday night, was on the cusp of falling to another struggling Big West opponent. The Rainbow Wahine were points away from getting swept by Cal State Fullerton, in fact.

But the Rainbow Wahine coach Robyn Ah Mow signed an executive order for some emergency relief and got it in a couple of forms on Saturday night.

PHOTO GALLERY: HAWAII VS. CAL STATE FULLERTON

One of them came in the frame of freshman Braelyn Akana, generously listed at 6 feet.

The Kamehameha alumna missed the first couple weeks of the season while not being cleared to play. But even once she was good to go, she appeared in only one match, Sacramento State on Sept. 6. She had two blocks and two kills to her name.

She turned out to be the answer to much of what UH was missing on this night in a 22-25, 20-25, 25-23, 25-15, 15-12 reverse sweep of the last-place Titans. Akana, a middle by trade, entered in the third set at right-side hitter for the first time in a Wahine uniform. She delivered the goods, though, with six kills and four blocks assists for the Wahine.

“When Coach Rob told me I was going in for outside, I was a little nervous because I was like, ‘this is a different position for me.’ Usually I play middle,” Akana said. “But just having the fight that they give us, I really had nothing else to lose. Coach Rob always talks about being the next one up, next man up. So just having the focus and the fight and the energy that came out tonight, it was really exciting.”

UH (13-2, 3-1 Big West) will see its No. 11 ranking and RPI tumble as a result of Friday’s match. But Akana helped negate the considerable aftershock damage that a loss to the Titans (8-7, 0-4) would’ve inflicted with Jolie Rasmussen still out and versatile Brooke Van Sickle joining her on the bench with an injury from Friday.

For Ah Mow, going to her was a practical decision.

“I mean, I needed somebody to block balls. We’re not blocking any balls,” Ah Mow said. “Their left sides are just hitting balls and we’re not blocking any. She does pretty good at practice. We actually put her at the right for a little while during this week. She came in and did her job. Got some kills on the way too.

“She’s obviously a middle. She runs slides very well. That’s one of her better hits, and she can do it on the right. So we definitely knew that she could do the job.”


Akana said: “I figured if they believe in me, I could believe in myself too, so just going out there and trying my best.”

It wasn’t a cure-all when she checked in, but it started to turn the tide. Ah Mow made another key move in telling Norene Iosia that she would join fellow setter Bailey Choy on the court for the first time this season, and hit the ball like she had in a dual role in past seasons. Fullerton still led 17-12, 19-16 and 21-19 in the third.

Iosia, playing with a freshman-heavy lineup, led the charge to get it to Set 4 with a couple of timely aces.

“I don’t care if you’re a freshman. I don’t care if you didn’t play this whole year or the first two sets,” Iosia said of a young group that also included Amber Igiede, Tiffany Westerberg and Hanna Hellvig when things began to swing. “We’re here now and we can do it. I’m so proud of them. They stepped up. Brae, came in, amazing. … Never, ever ever (playing outside before). She barely started doing it in practice. So it just shows her characters and what she’s been doing on the sideline, really paying attention and getting locked in to whatever position she needs to (play).”

Iosia, who was one kill shy of a triple-double (nine kills, 26 assists, 17 digs) helped light a fire under her teammates for the third when they went back to the locker room down two sets.

Ah Mow recounted of Iosia’s speech, “When is it going to be time, guys? When is it going to be time? And I just looked, ‘OK, you gotta stay on the court.’ So, she on the court. I go in the huddle, in the locker room, I’m like ‘you’re going to hit in the set. Bailey, you go play back row, play some defense in the back, Brae, you’re going to block some balls on the right side, and we’re going to win. Let’s go.’ (Iosia) didn’t give me no nothing-nothing, she’s like, ‘OK.’ She did it last year, she can do it again. She didn’t hit one single ball (lately) … and she was one kill away from a triple-double. What can I say, MVP girl.”

Once it got to the fourth, Akana, who wears her mother Joselyn Robins’ No. 14, found her footing. She put down kills for the last two UH points of the set to get it to the deciding fifth.

“I just wanted the kill, I wanted the point, I wanted us to win,” Akana said. “Just the fight that my teammates had around me, it just made me (want) to win.”


She added a couple more in the fifth, including one right after checking in, for a 13-7 lead. Her bump assist to Igiede ended a 4-0 Titans run, their last gasp.

UH improved to 41-0 all-time against Fullerton heading into next week’s road trip to first-place teams Cal Poly (5-0) and UC Santa Barbara (5-0).

COMMENTS

  1. darkfire35 October 6, 2019 1:48 am

    A total team effort. I underestimated Robyn’s brilliance in her coaching. She really does have her eye and instinct on what could help her team to win. Robyn, Well cone!

    Bob Mariano
    darkfire35


  2. H-Man October 6, 2019 9:59 am

    So it looks like Braelyn Akana has earned the right-side hitter position. Then where does Hanna play?


  3. sports for fun October 6, 2019 2:45 pm

    On video, the one with the winning score, at the end, you could see Brooke walking gingerly and Jolie kinda helping her as the team ran out to the court. Brooke didn’t look good at all. Praying for both of them!


  4. CUQ October 6, 2019 4:58 pm

    Noticed that in the two recent matches, teams are hitting to the back left corner as you face the service line from the net and scoring.


  5. Kazu October 7, 2019 5:29 am

    I like this Freshmen class . They still learning,but they will get better as time goes on.
    3. Saw that. Guess they will be staying home this week end.


  6. Rabbit ears October 7, 2019 9:09 am

    Praise for Akana is kind of over the top. She did ok. Block assist category is miss leading. She had 1 block.


  7. Loca1boi October 8, 2019 6:10 am

    @ Rabbit Hole

    A freshman, coming into the game late while the team is in trouble and asked to play out of her position and she does great… Friggin Debbie Downer you are.


  8. RainbowWahineFan15 October 8, 2019 8:07 am

    Braelyn Akana played a pivotal role in sparking this team back to life after those first two sets when Hawaii was down. She literally came in and played a position new to her. That’s like asking a Forward in basketball to play Point Guard or a Center in Football to play Wide Receiver. She may not have stood out numbers wise but her level of play made her stand out at the right moments for UH, which ultimately lead to UH’s reverse sweep win over Cal-State Fullerton.


  9. rabbit ears October 8, 2019 8:55 am

    There’s a reason why Akana hasn’t played much. Coach has said in interviews that she’s basically a project. Proclaiming her the new starter at OH is over the top. She did good, very high volleyball IQ. But right now she is limited in her skill set and athleticism.


  10. James Manuel October 8, 2019 3:10 pm

    #9

    Just congratulate and keep it movin. Akana was pivotal in that game and you know it. Sheezus.


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