Nnamani, balanced attack
power Stanford over
No. 1 Rainbow Wahine
By Kalani Wilhelm
Special to RSN
Monday, Nov. 11, 2002
The Stanford Cardinal proved that you can't come to a prize fight one-handed and expect to win.
Many Hawaii volleyball fans expected nothing less than a five-round slugfest, but it turned into a three-round unanimous decision in favor of the Cardinal, 31-29, 30-28, 30-24 sweep Sunday night in sold-out Stan Sheriff Center.
Fourth-ranked Stanford's balanced attack took away a bit of the luster from the highly anticipated encounter between the two national powers.
While Hawaii (23-1) relied heavily on the heavy hitting provided by left side hitters Lily Kahumoku and Kim Willoughby, the defending national champions came to play with a full offensive arsenal filled. All-Americans Logan Tom and Ogonna Nnamani provided effective jabs, counter punches by role players and body blows and power punches that knocked the Wahine off of their week long perch as the top team in collegiate volleyball.
Like two heavyweight fighters trying to get a feel for the other, the two teams traded points until 9-all in game one. The Wahine, sparked by the all-around play of junior middle Lauren Duggins and Lily Kahumoku held leads of four at 23-19 but Stanford managed to fight back and brought the match to a 27-all standstill. Two kills by outside hitter Ashley Ivy made the score 29-27, but Hawaii survived match point with kills by Maja Gustin and Willoughby.
The Cardinal stacked up their block to deny a Willoughby kill attempt to end game one. Kahumoku led the way with seven kills.
"This was a good test for us," Kahumoku said. "We got whipped."
"It just proved that we are beatable," said Willoughby, who slammed down a match high 20 kills to go along with 15 digs.
Wahine head coach Dave Shoji was happy with the job his team did on neutralizing the play of Logan Tom, but also noted that they had no answer for Stanford's other All-American outside hitter, sophomore Ogonna Nnamani.
Nnamani led the Stanford attack with 19 kills and finished the match hitting at a scorching .630 clip, .300 points higher than her season average.
"Ogonna was the difference. She simply overpowered us," Shoji said.
Nnamani, who led the team with 111 hitting errors -- 50 more than any other Stanford player -- had no answer to her stellar play.
"I just go out their and do what the team needs me to. That's all I can do for myself and my teammates. I'm happy with how everyone played not just how I did," she said.
Kahumoku quickly picked up where she left off in game two, accounting for four of Hawaii's first six points. Stanford resumed control of the back and forth battle behind Nnamani and Tom and led 17-21. The Cardinal pulled out an evenly played game two when Willoughby, who led Hawaii in game two with nine kills, was called for a foot foul during her serve attempt. A hopeful Stan Sheriff crowd of 10,252 turned silent.
Willoughby said it was the first time she had ever committed the violation.
"It was just like if I hit the ball into the net if I keep my eye on the line all the time I can't focus on the serve," said Willoughby, whose serve would have been ruled out had she not committed the foul. "A violation is a violation."
Although they were a bit staggered, down 2-0, the Wahine looked to get back into the match in game three. After building a 4-1 advantage, the Wahine hit the wall after Stanford managed to break a 7 all tie. Stanford rallied back and snuffed out any thoughts of a Hawaii come back with a 6-17 run to put the match out of reach, Hawaii never got with five points from that point on as every ball that came from the Hawaii side of the net seemed to sail long, fall wide or ricochet out of bounds.
"We were in the match the whole way," said Kahumoku. "Ogonna was just unstoppable."
The Wahine won the battle between of the superstars, 39-35, but lost the team battle thanks to the contributions put forth by Ivy and middle blocker Sara McGee, who combined for 20 kills and 23 digs.
"With Logan around we're the underdogs," said Ivy who had a match-high 16 digs. "Volleyball is a game of momentum; we gained the momentum after the first game and kept it game two."
While Stanford relied more on the services of all players on the floor, the Wahine behind the play of Kahumoku and Willoughby were deadly from the left side but suffered from a lack of production from right side hitter Suzie Booghard. The freshman accounted for only a single kill in games one and two combined.
"Kim and I did what we expected. Sometimes it's said that we live and die with our lefts. That may have been the case tonight." Kahumoku said.
Coming into the match, Stanford coach John Dunning was weary that Hawaii could go on hot streaks. He was happy that his club was able to prevent the Wahine from putting together points in bunches and equally pleased with how they responded to the sold out crowd.
"We were prepared," said Dunning, alluding to the capacity crowds of 5,000 plus fans in places like Arizona and USC. "We're used to big crowds."
"Hawaii has the best setting for volleyball in the country," said Dunning. "And two of the country's best players. Kim is very explosive and Lily is very fluid."
The loss put a damper on Senior Night where Hawaii fans said farewell to seniors Margaret Vakasausau, Jen Carey and Hedder Ilustre.
"We'll bounce back," Shoji said. "All we can do is watch the tape and learn from this. This tape is something we'll definitely keep and learn from."
Willoughby was quick to downplay the hype leading up to the match and said the team won't let the loss hinder the team's long-term goals.
"It's just another volleyball match we still have matches to play," Willoughby said. "A loss is a loss. Would I have liked to beat Stanford? Of course, but a loss is a loss. There is a still a lot of volleyball left for us."
- The game one defeat ended Hawaii's 54-game unbeaten string, the fourth longest in NCAA history.
- Logan Tom requested 30 tickets for family and friends.
- Don Ho took part in pre-game festivities and was accompanied by UH president Evan Dobelle to perform an impromptu duet of Ho's classic "Tiny Bubbles." After the performance Ho joked with the fans by saying, "I hate that song."
- The sellout crowd was the 11th sellout in school history.
Kalani Wilhelm can be reached at wilhelmk@Hawaii.edu.