Dec. 12, 2009

By Michelle Smith
Special to

STANFORD, Calif. -- Stephanie Ferrell was no secret to Illinois coach Kevin Hambly.

He knew Hawaii’s sophomore outside hitter was a dangerous player at the front of the net, and the Los Angeles native proved him right.

Ferrell helped lead 12th-seeded Hawaii to a 3-1 upset of No. 5 seed Illinois in the regional semifinals of the NCAA women’s volleyball championships Friday night at Maples Pavilion.

She turned in a career-high 19 kills and a .412 hitting percentage. She had five kills in a hotly contested third set that turned the match in Hawaii’s favor.

Ferrell and fellow sophomore Kanani Danielson accounted for 40 of Hawaii’s 60 kills in the match. Danielson, the WAC player of the year, said she was impressed by Ferrell’s game against the Illini.

“She got on it quick,” Danielson said. “She had no hesitation at swinging on the big blocks that we had to face. She’s been looking sharp since it was time for us to be getting ready for this NCAA tournament. She’s holding her ground, and she’s shouldering a big load for us. She just keeps fighting and fighting, and she’s hitting a great percentage.”

Ferrell, a second-team all-conference player in the WAC, has had a strong NCAA tournament, collecting 36 kills in three matches.

“She’s a great player, and we knew she was a great player,” Hambly said. “We knew they were going to attack us, go fast to Ferrell, put a lot of pressure on us.

“It’s not surprising Ferrell went off. We knew she had a big arm, she’s athletic and she’d present a problem. She wasn’t a wild card. We expected her to be that good, and she certainly played at a high level tonight.”

Ferrell’s 19 kills were the most she’d had in a match since establishing her career high in Hawaii’s last loss, to California back on Sept. 6.

Since then – a run of 27 straight wins for Hawaii – she’s had no more than 12 kills in a match.

But she gave Hawaii a big boost in the absence of senior Amber Kaufman, who left Friday’s match after the first set with a strained abdomen.

“It was a shame that they didn’t have their full complement of players, and you could tell she wasn’t herself from the beginning,” Hambly said of Kaufman. “But obviously, it didn’t hurt them too much.”

Ferrell’s career at Hawaii has been marked by injuries – most recently breaking her ankle last spring – and adversity. In her freshman season, her brother Ricky was murdered in Los Angeles, a tragedy that was followed soon by the death of her grandmother.

Ferrell has said she came through her sadness knowing that returning to Hawaii was the right thing to do.

Danielson said her teammate “always keeps a positive attitude whatever she goes through.”

On Friday night, Ferrell said it was confidence and motivation that pushed her to the best performance of her young career.

“I feel like our chances are pretty good, because we had a tough preseason and that set us up for what we were going to face,” Ferrell said. “I just wanted to go.”