Hawaii women’s volleyball: Rainbow Wahine primed for senior week

Hawaii's five seniors — Rika Okino, Kirsten Sibley, Bailey Choy, McKenna Ross, Norene Iosia — play their senior week games this week. / Photo by Jamm Aquino, Star-Advertiser

Technically Rika Okino never played for Dave Shoji. She redshirted during 2016 in what ended up being the last of 42 seasons for the Hawaii women’s volleyball coach.

Still, having that link to the Hall of Famer who retired with 1,202 victories and four national championships means a lot to Okino, who is one of five Rainbow Wahine who’ll be feted during Friday’s senior night at the Stan Sheriff Center. What means even more to the Kalani High product is the words that Shoji has had for her after he has watched her play in the arena this season.

“After a game, he’ll come up to me and say, ‘You had a good game, Rika,’ ” said Okino, invited by Shoji to walk on in 2016. “That still means so much to me. He’s the reason that I’m able to do all this. He took a chance on me.

“To think we’re the last class with that connection to him is crazy. When you think of Hawaii volleyball, you think of Dave Shoji.

“Coach Robyn (Ah Mow) has brought in a new era but both have kept that theme of Hawaii volleyball. Both coaches are different in their own amazing way.”

Okino has one year of eligibility left but has opted to graduate in four years. She gets to share senior night with one of her childhood friends and youth leagues teammate, setter Bailey Choy, who is playing as a graduate student after three seasons at Utah.

“I’m so glad Bailey came back,” Okino said. “She’s been the perfect addition. She’s like sunshine, brightens everybody’s day with such a positive attitude.”

“Positive attitude” has been the theme for the group that includes seniors Norene Iosia, McKenna Ross and Kirsten Sibley, one that is poised to clinch Hawaii’s first Big West title since 2016. Should the Wahine win both home matches against CSUN on Thursday and Long Beach State on Friday, they are guaranteed the conference championship and the Big West’s automatic berth in next month’s NCAA tournament.

No. 18 Hawaii (22-3, 12-2) is one victory shy of tying the win total of that 2016 team, the last squad to win an NCAA first-round match. The past two seasons, the Wahine were an at-large selection and were eliminated in the first round, both losses in five sets (Illinois in 2017 and Baylor in 2018).

The senior night festivities for Ah Mow in 1996 lasted longer than a 15-2, 15-4, 15-2 sweep of UNLV. Her advice to this group?

“Have fun, one,” the All-America setter said. “And two, when you get in there and getting a bit little nervous, just deep breaths. And just enjoy it because there’s no place else in the country that’s going to do senior night like how we’re going to do it.”

Ah Mow said she was going to miss this group, “especially Norene, my headache,” the third-year coach said. “But she knows that. I’ve seen her growth, get chicken skin talking about her. It’s going to be hard for the fans to say good-bye to that girl.

“I’m going to be sad to see them go. Maybe my grey hairs might not come back.”

Not that there’s a competition but Iosia, Okino and Ross are all expecting more than two dozen family and friends in the arena. Iosia said it will be the first time some of her relatives are coming to Hawaii.

For Ross, it’s a homecoming of sorts for her family. Her father, Jason, played football and baseball for Hawaii and aunt Nohea Tano played for the Wahine from 2001-03, advancing to the NCAA semifinals her final two seasons.

“It’s really a dream come true to play here,” said Ross, originally recruited as a defensive specialist by Shoji. “It’s truly an honor to be following in the footsteps of my family.”

“I’m definitely going to cry,” Iosia said. “This experience has humbled me. The love for volleyball here is so big, it’s nothing you see on the mainland. Just the support we have. Even when we go to the mainland, we have bigger crowds than our opponents. It’s crazy.”

Iosia continues to move up on the UH career charts in three categories: assists, aces and digs. She is No. 5 in aces (128), No. 9 in assists (3,039) and No. 10 in digs (1,122).

Iosia is six aces away from passing current associate head coach Angelica Ljunquist for No. 4.


  1. Harvey November 20, 2019 7:12 pm

    What an absolutely great photo to accompany this post. Aloha ladies — and go kill it over this final weekend and in the NCAA tournament ahead!

  2. H-Man November 20, 2019 7:34 pm

    I feel this article says it all. Enjoyed reading it. This is Shoji’s last recruiting class, except for Bailey. But what an addition she’s made her one year here. I know the team will play their best. I will miss this team when it’s done for the season. 😹

  3. shar November 20, 2019 8:07 pm

    Kudos to Coach Rob for coming here and following Dave. Those were big shoes to fill. As one of my bosses said about someone: “She is not following her predecessor, she is paving her own way.” I was so relieved that Coach rob came back because our fans can be critical and someone with no history with the program would have had a difficult time. She also brought and elite coaching staff with her. So proud. She has taken a young team so far in just 3 months.

    TBH, I did not apply for a job I was qualified for and wanted because I knew I didn’t have the inner strength to put up the criticism and comparisons.

    The team is on its way. Thank you to the coaches, players, ball girls, and support staff for such an amazing season

  4. CUQ November 20, 2019 8:56 pm

    LET’S GO BOWS!!…An emotional Senior Night coming. After this weekend…DO SOME DAMAGE IN THE NCAA TOURNAMENT!!!

  5. tongo November 20, 2019 9:05 pm

    All the very best to the seniors and thank you. It was a pleasure watching you play and grow! Go get them this Thursday and Friday!

  6. Cindy Luis November 20, 2019 9:09 pm

    For sure a great photo by the incomparable Jamm Aquino. Shot when we were doing our preview issue.

  7. turfwar November 20, 2019 9:26 pm

    Jamm Aquino is an amazing photographer and his work at sporting events is unmatched. Thank you for this shot of the seniors Jamm. Perfect.

  8. turfwar November 20, 2019 9:35 pm

    And this group of seniors will be missed by many. Thank you for all of the memories and for representing everything it means to be a Wahine Volleyball Player. As a proud Wahine fan I’m sure I will be among many to shed a tear on Senior night.

  9. blunite November 20, 2019 11:13 pm

    Interesting commentary by Mick Haley at Volleyballmag.com. https://volleyballmag.com/mondays-with-mick-111819/

    He mentioned Hawaii as one of the mid-majors to watch in the tournament. Said that they are healthy now.

    He said that he would not be surprised if Texas gets one of the 4 regionals and Baylor gets a regional. This would probably leave the Big10 champion with a regional. Maybe Stanford (PAC12 Champion) with the last regional.

  10. Brandon November 21, 2019 2:08 am

    Hawaii is going to be tough to beat, even without Rasmussen.

    However with Rasmussen, they are an elite eight caliber team

  11. Hot November 21, 2019 7:45 am

    The class of Skyler Williams, Janelle Gong, Sophia Howling and Shaney Lipscomb was the last to commit to Shoji. Williams and Gong are the only ones still around. I hope Gong gets to play more. She was very solid last year.

  12. Optimist November 21, 2019 9:46 am

    Regarding Jolie and medical redshirt, playing, etc.: Her playing must be, well maybe not must be, but probably is still is a possibility otherwise I would think they/she would just say she’s done for the year. If she becomes cleared/available to play her role may range from as before a 6 rotation player, to part time front and/or part time back. I say back, if her back row skills even if not at 100% happens to provide a better/different/additional option than someone else in that position at any particular given time. I think of how Kalei Greeley was used in the past after her injury.

    When the Wahine play LBSU, I think the Wahine need their better back row recievers in when Hailey Harward(DS/L) and /or Yizhi Xue(MB) are serving. Which to me would Brooke and ….
    Also see McKenna and Tiffany splitting time up front as the situation warrants.

    Go Wahine! Go seniors! Go everybody!
    Enjoy and relish, win the rest of your 2019 matches!

  13. Cindy Luis November 21, 2019 2:14 pm

    new thread up with Thursday match links.
    Jamm is the best. And I appreciate Brian McInnis for his videos that add so much to our Warrior World site.
    9. Haley is a straight shooter. but he’s not saying anything new that this blog and others have discussed.
    Remember when he was on ESPN and said “Occupy NCAA” since he felt the way the tournament brackets were set up were ridiculous. when I called him later he was very vocal about how unfair Hawaii was treated.
    Haley’s history with UH includes his Longhorns defeating the Wahine in the 1988 title match. and the Wahine eliminating the Women of Troy three times in the NCAA tournament, including 2009 when UH made it to the final four and 2016 Shoji’s last season.

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