Badgers eye upset of Rainbow Wahine

Wisconsin opened NCAA play with a pair of 3-0 victories last weekend

GREEN BAY—Riding the momentum of consecutive three-game sweeps over Loyola and Notre Dame in the NCAA Tournament, the Wisconsin volleyball team will now look to pin the first loss of the season on the No. 3 seed Hawaii. The No. 14 seeded Badgers face the 30-0 Rainbow Wahine in the NCAA regional semifinals tonight, in the relative comfort of the Resch Center here.

"They're a really well-rounded team," UW head coach Pete Waite said of Hawaii. "All the players pass well, block well, hit well. Their setter's quick with their offense and a very good blocking setter. A combination of their skills and their past history makes them a very tough team."

Hawaii runs a quick and diversified offense, led by standout setter Kanoe Kamana'o. One of the leading candidates for national player of the year honors, the sophomore from Honolulu has put up 13.63 assists per game this season. With Kamana'o at the helm, the Hawaii offense is a difficult one to defend.

"Our block has to be very disciplined," Waite said. "Around that block, our defense has to sit still and dig some balls because she's deceptive and she's quick. Our best bet would be to serve tough so we can keep her off the net."

Kamana'o will look to several different hitters in running the Rainbow Wahine attack, beginning with outside hitter Alicia Arnott. Playing on the left side, Arnott paces the team with 4.11 kills per game. Susie Boogard will also take swings on the left side, averaging 3.82 kills per game. Opposite Arnott and Boogaard on the right side is freshman Tara Hittle.

Inside, Washington State transfer Victoria Prince is making a run at the school's single season hitting percentage record by hitting at a .420 clip. The 6-foot Prince also hammers 3.40 kills per game. The other middle hitter position belongs to Kari Gregory. The balanced offense is in stark contrast to the 2003 Wahine, who relied on the services of national player of the year Kim Willoughby.

"Willoughby would have gotten 60 percent of the balls at least last year," Waite said. "Now they've got to disperse it, which is sometimes is a little tougher (to defend), but I'm still glad Willoughby's not there."

In addition to talented, Hawaii will also be tired. After traveling to and from Fort Collins, Colo. last weekend, the Wahine arrived in Green Bay after a red-eye flight from Honolulu to Chicago. Wisconsin meanwhile, merely had to sit through a bus ride from Madison to Green Bay.

"They've got to be tired," UW middle blocker Sheila Shaw said. "I would not want to be them. I think it's a huge advantage for us and I hope we do get a lot of fans. I know they travel with a lot of people, too. I hope it's harder for them to get people to Wisconsin and I hope it's really cold."

While UW has a favorable home-court advantage on its side, the Badgers know they will have to be at their best to contend with the Rainbow Wahine.

"Our passing has got to be there," Waite said. "They're also a tough serving team, so we're going to have to really be solid with our passing and limit our errors. Then I think we can stay in the game with them."

Wisconsin played some of its best ball of the season last weekend. Hosting first and second round action at the Field House, the Badgers dispatched with both Loyola and Notre Dame in efficient 3-0 fashion. In the two wins, UW averaged 5.67 blocks per game and will look to do the same against a shorter Hawaii squad. Offensively, left-side hitter Maria Carlini and Shaw led the Badgers by averaging 4.00 kills per game over the weekend.

"I think we are just so fired up because it's tournament time," Shaw said. "I mean, how can you not be fired up at tournament time? I definitely think one of our best matches this year was the Notre Dame match, hands down. It's just a great feeling to come off such a great match going into this weekend."

What: Wisconsin (21-9) vs. Hawaii (30-0), NCAA third round
When: Friday, Dec. 10 at 7 p.m.
Where: Resch Center, Green Bay Wis.

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