For many of the 5,320 in the crowd at the Stan Sheriff Center, the Washington Huskies women’s volleyball team had become something like what BYU used to be in football … a nemesis, arch-enemy and source of much frustration.
Going into Sunday’s match against their beloved University of Hawaii Rainbow Wahine, the UH fans had endured four consecutive losses to the Huskies — three of them season-ending ousters from the NCAA tournament.
The Wahine players? That stuff was ancient history, if they knew about it at all. The result was 25-20, 25-12, 20-25, 25-18, and it really wasn’t that close as Hawaii ran its record to 3-0 for the first time since 2015.
Futility against Washington wasn’t on the minds of many, if any of the UH players. This is almost an entirely brand-new squad from last year — young players undaunted and un-haunted by any past with the uniform across the net.
For those with familiarity, 13th-ranked Washington’s just another good team, but certainly manageable. Three Oregon transfers, including hitter Jolie Rasmussen, see the Huskies as nothing to be scared of. Just an old rival from the Pac-12 fun to play against, and especially fun to beat.
“It means a lot, but at the end of the day it’s a preseason tournament and doesn’t mean anything,” said Rasmussen, who was named the tournament’s most valuable player after pounding 19 kills in UH’s dominant four-game victory on Sunday, that was in effect the championship match of the Hawaiian Airlines Rainbow Wahine Classic. “If we play them again in the postseason, it’ll be up for grabs, and we’re gonna grab it.”
Rasmussen said it was a team effort, and it certainly looked like one from courtside.
“Every single person executed our game plan,” she said. “Our block is huge, and that makes it so much easy.”
Despite a noticeable height difference of 2 inches or more across the front row, Hawaii never appeared intimidated. And the numbers back it up. UH posted a total of 18 team blocks compared to 11.5 for Washington. Freshman Amber Igiede (6-foot-3) and junior Skyler Williams (6-1) were in on nine and eight blocks.
Also, UH neutralized Huskies middle Lauren Sanders (five kills, two block assists) and go-to hitter Kara Bajema. Bajema’s team-high 14 kills were mitigated by a like number of errors in 49 swings.
Meanwhile, Rasmussen got plenty of help from all over the court, not just at the net. Brooke Van Sickle, another Oregon transfer and the latest in a long line of undersized Wahine hitters who play big, knocked down seven kills. Van Sickle, generously listed at 5-feet-9, also contributed big on the receiving end with just one error in 29 opportunities (she also pitched in on seven blocks). Rasmussen and Bailey Choy were credited with 10 digs apiece.
Choy is half of the two-setter system that also includes senior and three-time All-Big West player Norene Iosia. They were the only two seniors to play for the Wahine on Sunday.
“With three freshmen on the court at the same time, and playing four, yeah, it made me a little nervous sometimes,” third-year head coach Robyn Ah Mow said. “Especially playing with two setters, there’s a lot of getting used to.”
But one thing most of these players were not used to is losing to Washington.
“New girls, so they don’t know what that is,” Ah Mow said. “When I was Dave’s (Shoji’s) assistant I think they beat us twice. It’s great to play U-Dub. For me, I love to play tall teams.”
After the first two games, it looked like a sweep was coming, and that certainly would have delighted the UH fans. But, at this point so early in the schedule, the way Hawaii faltered in the third set could be a blessing. It gave the staff many coachable moments.
“We made 12 errors in that third set,” Ah Mow said. “We’ve still got stuff to work on.”
Also, it wasn’t like the Wahine closed down shop when they fell behind in the third, figuring they could just turn it back on in the fourth — they continued to battle like that third game was for survival.
“In that kind of situation you want to get some momentum, and celebrate each point,” Ah Mow said. “We saw them go through some ups and downs.”
It was a weekend of way more ups than downs, culminating in a big win for the program — especially the fans.