Hawaii women’s volleyball: Irvine pulls off reverse sweep stunner

The UC Irvine Anteaters charged the court after stunning No. 11 Hawaii in five sets. / Photo by Cindy Ellen Russell, Star-Advertiser

UC Irvine coach Ashlie Hain did not call it the biggest win in program history.

Not even after her Anteaters beat traditional women’s volleyball powerhouse Hawaii for the first time in 41 meetings. At the Stan Sheriff Center. With the Rainbow Wahine ranked No. 11. With her team trailing by two sets through two played.

Irvine ignored the increasingly desperate pleas of “Let’s Go Bows!” and pulled off the reverse sweep stunner, 11-25, 21-25, 25-23, 25-16, 15-13.

The 5,265 fans were finally stunned silent. Their team, which had lost only to now-No. 1 Baylor, on the road, had succumbed to a struggling program that could’ve been expected to fold after getting waxed in the first set.

On paper, it was hard to make sense of what they’d just witnessed, even with Jolie Rasmussen still out injured and Brooke Van Sickle apparently ailing midway through the match. But it became increasingly understandable, perhaps inevitable, seeing the energy with which the visiting Anteaters played and that which UH lacked.

“For me it’s about just growth and I’m just proud of this team for what they did tonight,” said Hain, a former UCI setter. “It wasn’t necessarily the win over Hawaii. It was a win over a great team at their place. And I’m just proud of this team for all they’ve been through. To pull out that win means a lot, and it’s not just about beating Hawaii and whatever they are, the No. 11 team in the country. It’s what they’ve overcome the last five weeks.”

Irvine (4-12, 1-3 Big West) had lost its last four matches, including all three of its conference matches last week, winning in four. It had won just 14 sets all season and dropped 40. Forty-two, if you include the first two the Wahine took on Friday night.

“We just decided we have nothing to lose and just go for everything. Just give it our all,” said Irvine’s 6-foot-3 freshman middle/hitter Onye Ofoegbu, who put down the match-winning kill among her 13. “Because this is what we all want and we decided let’s go as a team and let’s get it.”

UH (12-2, 2-1) had struggled to cleanly put away its conference foes at Long Beach State and Cal State Northridge last week. This time, at home, they paid for allowing a team to hang around.

Things turned in the Anteaters’ favor late in the second, when UH labored to win that frame. They eked out the third and won the fourth convincingly, shouting at each other on big points, of which there were many.

Just when it looked like things swung back UH’s way at the start of the fifth, came a critical series of events — events decided on the replay monitor courtside. After it appeared the Wahine had taken a 2-0 lead, Hain challenged that UH had committed four touches on the second point, and won it, to make it 1-1. The crowd, incensed, raised their chants to the loudest of the night in support of their team.

Then, a ball was shanked toward the Anteater bench, and near the sideline table. But a scrambling Anteater collided with a Spectrum cameraman sitting next to the UCI bench. UCI challenged for interference and, in a huge call, was granted a replay of the point.

UCI did not waste the extra chance. Ofoegbu put down a kill and Abby Marjama followed with an ace to go up 3-1. The Anteaters took leads of 7-2 and 8-3 before UH rallied to 12-12 on Norene Iosia’s serve.

There were several more replays in the stilted fifth frame.

“We visualized if we lost the point (challenge) or got the point, we decided what we were going to do in either situation, and we executed what we visualized beforehand,” Ofoegbu said.

The ‘Eaters proved tough to put away again, as McKenna Ross (into the net) and Hanna Hellvig (wide) committed attack errors to set up match point.

UH had a point upheld on an Irvine service error on a tense challenge — if Irvine won it the match was over right there — to get the Wahine within 14-13.

But Ofoegbu put down the match-winner emphatically through contact as the ‘Eaters mobbed each other on their side of the floor, then composed themselves to shake hands at the net.

“I was just hoping I didn’t get blocked, if I’m being honest,” Ofoegbu said. “I just wanted to stay aggressive on the last point, and not tip or not be scared, because we have nothing to lose. We said, let’s just go.”

Ofoegbu (.440 hitting) only recently turned 17 years old. She’d had some up-and-down performances leading into this week.

“We put a lot of work into her this week. And she needs a lot of work. She’s really young,” Hain said. “So she needed a week of practice. Our preseason was so jam-packed we didn’t really get to practice. We got four practices this week with her, and it shows. So she’s learning and she’s staying aggressive, and that’s what we asked.”

UH gets a quick chance to respond Saturday night at 7 against Cal State Fullerton (8-6, 0-3). The Wahine are 40-0 all-time against the Titans.


  1. CUQ October 5, 2019 7:02 am

    What a shocking loss. Not sure if working harder is the answer to what we saw last night. It seemed to me that the seniors did not have good games…passing and digs on seemingly easy balls were missed and too many unforced hitting errors. The block was not there. Sets were low and not connecting. The team is continuing their downward trend from the last two road trip matches.

  2. H-Man October 5, 2019 8:47 am

    Another 0-40 team versus the Wahine. I wonder if the Wahine can mentally recover quickly from last night’s loss UCI. They looked bewildered during the match, often arguing about calls that went the way of UCI. Let’s face it, they were outplayed. Good luck tonight.

  3. nomu1001 October 5, 2019 12:51 pm

    Their 17 year old M is going to be a good one. We’ll be hearing more about her in the future. Their attitude is a winning one in any sport. Congratulations to UCI, they deserve the win.

  4. ET October 5, 2019 2:58 pm

    That replay in the fifth still bothers me. It appeared the camera operator just stayed put and didn’t “interfere” with that play. If the official ruled that he obstructed, why do they allow the camera to be there in the first place? The camera should be treated as another piece of furniture like the tables and monitors. if there is a chance of obstruction, why did the officials allow the camera to be stationed there in the first place. Maybe they should ban the cameras from being there in the future to prevent something like this from happening again. Not sure if UH can protest the game and have them replay the set. Upon review, the “4 touch” overrule should also not have been given, that’s a four point swing.

  5. Aiea 7 October 5, 2019 3:04 pm

    last night’s game exposed the fact that they need a full-time libero to steady the passing receive. UCI was a pretty good serving team and the other players were not able to handle the difficult serves. when the first pass Is not good the setter will have difficulty in making good sets to the hitters. what good is having e 5 hitters when the first pass is bad and the setters are having difficulty in make good sets to the hitters. enough of this experiment, go back to using a full-time libero. I make a comment about this early in the season. the libero plays an important part of not only the defensive game but offensive as well – the are skilled ballhandlers, this is why most teams use a fulltime libero, before they were called defensive specialists, but they do more than just dig balls, they also set the ball when the setter is out of position.

  6. peanut October 5, 2019 3:37 pm

    I’m wondering about that camera interference ruling as well. Is it stated in the rule book somewhere or did the official just make a ruling on the fly? Were they just intimidated by the coaching staff and gave in

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