2012 Wahine Volleyball Articles Aug 15, 2012 20:59:20 GMT -5
Post by Wiz on Aug 15, 2012 20:59:20 GMT -5
By Ann Miller, The Star-Advertiser
POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Aug 15, 2012
THIRD IN A SERIES
So many diggers, so few volleyballs.
A week ago, Hawaii volleyball coach Dave Shoji was searching for "a slam dunk" small person to seize the libero position from among the eight defensive specialists on his roster.
"We are at a point where we've got to be really, really critical," Shoji said when the Rainbow Wahine opened practice 16 days before their Aug. 24 opener. "We don't have the luxury of someone being OK. We've got eight OK players. I'm looking for a slam dunk kid to put out there and take care of that position."
Ali Longo has apparently risen over the rim, with Emily Maeda — Hawaii's lone senior — on her heels. What puts them above all the other 5-foot-7-and-under players is their passing. It is the catalyst for everything and, with one of the country's best passers (Kanani Danielson) gone, is extremely critical this season.
Maeda, the Roosevelt walk-on who anchored the libero position last season, remains Hawaii's quickest defensive player, yet Longo has sprinted ahead with a combination of passing consistency, confidence and a serve worth several points in scrimmages.
The Colorado native was the Penn State starter last year, leading the team that won the previous four NCAA titles in digs, and throwing in 32 aces with what Shoji calls "a really tough, low floater." She transferred for her final two years because the Wahine offered the scholarship PSU did not.
There was also the unique location and fan base. The more she looked at schools, the more Longo liked Hawaii. Even Danielson's All-America gifts, now headed to Japan's pro league, enticed her.
"She was fun to watch," Longo says. "Really fun."
Shoji believes Longo can re-create at least part of Danielson's entertainment value.
"She's got some toughness about her; that's what we need out of that position," he said. "She's pretty vocal and very aggressive."
Maeda still could grab the position. If she doesn't play libero, she will still play.
"She's super quick, probably the quickest of the whole group, and she can pursue the ball," Shoji said. "She can dig the hard-driven ball, and if she's not the libero she'll come in for somebody. We could use her as a passer or we could just use her as a defender.
"When she's on, she's really good in passing. When she gets a little shaky that's when she's not so good. If that's the case, then we can pull her out of the formation and put someone else in. Emily is a fifth-year senior, so she is good to have around."
Punahou graduate Courtney Lelepali and transfer Sarah Mendoza have separated themselves from the rest of the pack. Both are solid passers. Lelepali has a serve capable of creating havoc and exudes confidence. In her first week here, Mendoza has shown good skills and intuition.
A year ago, outside hitters Danielson and Jane Croson were 1-2 in digs. Danielson, who covered a huge chunk of court, had just nine service-reception errors all year. This season, Shoji wants more from his "smalls" and won't hesitate to have a libero, DS and designated server in at any time.
That leaves space for new faces but, realistically, not eight. Punahou graduate Kristina Kam, a redshirt junior who used to play for Tita Ahuna, has happily returned to the grind to try to earn her shot. Freshman Katie Spieler has yet to practice because of a fractured toe, so Shoji is waiting to see if she possesses any of the defensive gifts of her aunt — former UH All-American Lisa Strand-Ma‘a.
But, Spieler's size limits her range, and that is also a case with Kayla Kawamura and Katiana Ponce. The two tiniest Wahine hit in high school, for Hawaii Baptist and Moanalua.
LIBERO/DEFENSIVE SPECIALIST DEPTH CHART
1. Alyssa Longo, 5-6, Jr.
2. Emily Maeda, 5-6, Sr.
T3. Courtney Lelepali, 5-7, Jr.
T3. Sarah Mendoza, 5-5, Jr.
Nos. 5-8 (no order):
» Kristina Kam, 5-7, Jr.
» Kayla Kawamura, 5-4, Fr.
» Katie Spieler, 5-5, Fr.
» Katiana Ponce, 5-3, Fr.
I think Longo and Maeda will do a great job this year. For Maeda, I think it has to do with her confidence. I've noticed it last year that when she shanks a ball, she loses focus, and then she tends to play poorly.
My biggest concern is with the middle blockers.