Hawaii women’s volleyball: Okino, Wahine outlast Ruddins, UCSB

Hawaii libero Rika Okino dove to dig a ball in the second set against UC Santa Barbara on Friday. / Photo by Cindy Ellen Russell, Star-Advertiser

For a few moments, it appeared that UC Santa Barbara hitter Lindsey Ruddins was going to single-handedly carry the Gauchos to a crucial road win at Hawaii.

Fortunately for UH, and most unfortunately for UCSB, Friday night’s match at the Stan Sheriff Center lasted much longer than a few moments.


The Gauchos’ senior hitter had season highs in both kills (27) and swings (80) in hitting .275, but she wore down in the final two sets as UH staged its latest dramatic five-set comeback, 25-19, 22-25, 21-25, 25-18, 17-15. Norene Iosia put it away with her fourth ace of the night on UH’s third match point.

“Dramatic to say the least,” libero Rika Okino said.

While the 6-foot-2 Ruddins was borderline unstoppable in Set 2 in putting down 13 kills on 24 swings, and effective in Set 3 in helping the Gauchos take a 2-1 sets lead, she had only five kills over the last two sets, on 33 swings spanning those two.

Here’s what Ruddins did in the five sets (kills-errors-swings).
Set 1: 3-2-9
Set 2: 13-1-24
Set 3: 6-0-14
Set 4: 3-2-22
Set 5: 2-0-11

Ruddins, a former teammate of UH’s McKenna Ross at Aliso Niguel (Calif.) High, was placing shots on the money for a while but seemed to struggle with her command late. She finished with nearly half of her team’s total attacks.

UCSB coach Nicole Lantagne Welch did not say that Ruddins — the conference player of the year frontrunner who declined an interview through her coach after the match — wore down late. Her last kill squared it up at 12-all in the nail-biter of the fifth, when there were 13 ties.

“You know, I think we both had opportunities in that fifth set. We just needed to make one play sooner,” Lantagne Welch said. “You’re talking about millimeters at that point in difference. So I’m sure we’ll go back and watch film and there will be a play here, a play there we wish we had handled a little differently. You know, congratulations to Hawaii. Iosia’s an excellent server and she hit a great serve to finish it. Other than that, it was going back and forth … it was a one-point-difference game.”

UC Santa Barbara’s Lindsey Ruddins launched one of her 80 attacks at UH on Friday. / Photo by Cindy Ellen Russell, Star-Advertiser

While Hanna Hellvig was counted on for a career-high 19 kills and Iosia was one kill away from a triple-double (nine kills, 33 assists, 16 digs), Okino was responsible for fielding plenty of Ruddins’ best shots. Some went down directly and some caromed off her. But plenty others she was able to pop sky high for Iosia or Bailey Choy to set cleanly.

Okino, who’s seen her role increase over the course of her final season at UH, finished with 25 digs, nearly double her previous career high of 13 set at UCSB last year.

That was a third of UH’s team total.

“It was completely mental, really. I think it was different tonight for me. It was more of a mind-set that, I dunno, more dialed in I guess,” Okino said. “Because that’s her favorite shot, right where I’m standing. And you know the ball’s coming to you, so that’s half the battle. It’s just putting it up for my teammates to run it down for me.”

Of Ruddins — a three-time All-Big West first-teamer and the conference’s all-time leader on player of the week honors — Okino was complimentary.

“Well, she’s a great player, for sure. Probably one of the best in our conference,” the libero said. “She takes a lot of swings and she’s very successful for them. She’s like their biggest weapon, and defensively we want our blockers to block them, but … our block isn’t our only line of defense. That’s why we have six players, so when two people go up to block, we have four other people to dig that ball.”

On the topic of Okino’s career night, Robyn Ah Mow said postgame that assistant Kaleo Baxter said something to light a fire under the libero.

“It was just a matter of, saying enough is enough. Let’s go,” Okino said of how things swung back to her team by the finish. “And I think everybody started playing their best volleyball, really, and it turned out in our favor.”

And now UH (19-3, 9-2) is positioned to really make it a true three-team race in the Big West, if it can hang a loss on Cal Poly (16-6, 9-1) at 5 p.m. Sunday. UCSB dropped to 19-3 and 9-2.

“This will definitely help carry some momentum into Sunday. And we won’t want to lose (to Cal Poly) twice. We’re hungry,” Okino said.

2019 Big West women’s volleyball standings


  1. Aiea 7 November 2, 2019 8:26 am

    i was always in favor of using a fulltime libero and glad that they did. the libero stabilized the passing. in regards to okino, she had a great night. she has made herself into one of the best in the league. her bump sets are unreal. too bad she won’t be back next year, but kyra will so it should be good again next year. okino is one of the unsung heros on the team. she comes to play and don’t make any excuses. and what can we say about Norene – she is just fabulous, she has to be the most valuable player on the team if not the league. she has done so much for the team and unselfishly. both just goes out and do, without a fanfare or drama. these are the kind of players that make championship teams. there are other great players on the team too, like hellvig, van sickle, choy, ross, etc. who all helped with the success of the team. too bad jolie got hurt, she did exceptionally well while she played. hope she can play again this year. when they go to the Nccas, they will need her.

  2. Aiea 7 November 2, 2019 8:30 am

    oh, I forgot to mention the middles of amber and skylar, they contributed so much too. amber will only get better and skylar is a rock. riley is also a contributor, along with Westerberg. mahalo.

  3. islandman November 2, 2019 9:00 am

    Good article. Bows escape from superlady Ruddins and Okino had 1/3 of the UH total digs.

  4. CUQ November 2, 2019 10:28 am

    Lindsey Ruddins is so strong. I think Hawaii’s players can be that way too with some work. It was good for them to play against her. This match also proved the value of being in condition.

  5. islandman November 2, 2019 11:30 am

    4. Not only strong, but she jumps high and has a fast flexible arm swing.

  6. Jon November 2, 2019 1:46 pm

    Good game. Do you think all these 5 setters will wear out wahine by post season?

  7. sports for fun November 3, 2019 8:04 am

    I’m hoping Okino has another great dig game against Cal Poly tonight!! She looked determined in set 3 after having underwhelming play in sets 1 and 2 for the UCSB game. She got better and better as the match went on. Other teams are not afraid to serve her because they feel she’s not that good. Hopefully, Okino will take that disrespect to fuel her fire and use it to show that she is a capable libero!

  8. sports for fun November 3, 2019 8:13 am

    6 if anything it helps to build up their mental toughness in close games. Tourney time is a time of how mentally tough the players are. Plus Na Wahine have a deep bench. Coach RAM does sub quite frequently. I personally believe that she subbed McKenna Ross with Riley Wagoner to give Ross a rest. Yes, she also does sub when players don’t perform well, but I believe they’ll be alright.
    By the way, I think Coach RAM purposefully puts BVS into the game at set 3 in order to not overwork her because of her knee situation. That way, Coach RAM will have a fresh and strong BVS for the stretch run of the match, however many sets that may be. Just MHO concerning the BVS playing time.

  9. darkfire35 November 3, 2019 11:34 am

    8. Agreed. Many times us couch coaches don’t realize the rational behind why RAM subs as she does. Sometimes, it’s obvious when someone is not performing but there are times we ask ourselves, “Why did she take her out? She was doing good.” Until, like you said, you realize that BVS may still be at 90% recovery and RAM doesn’t want to aggravate the situation. It is also a good strategic move when she moves the players around later in the match and HH goes to the right and BVS on the left.
    What really amazes me is just how deep this bench is, even without JM. Get better JM!
    GO BOWS!!

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