Dec. 13, 2009

Sidebar: The Hometown Hero

By Michelle Smith
Special to

STANFORD, Calif. -- The final foursome is complete.

Hawaii, the No. 12 seed, reached its first NCAA national women's volleyball semifinals since 2003, defeating 13th-seeded Michigan in a three-set sweep Saturday night at Maples Pavilion.

The Wahine (32-2) won 25-23, 25-19, 25-18 to advance to the Final Four in Tampa, Fla., to take on top-seeded Penn State, which advanced over California 3-0 in Gainesville, Fla. Sophomore Kanani Danielson powered the Wahine to the victory with 11 kills. She was named the regional's Most Outstanding Player.

Fellow sophomore Stephanie Ferrell, who posted a career-high 19 kills against Illinois in the semifinals, finished with 10 kills.

The Wahine, who have won 28 straight matches in a streak that dates back to early September, have not won a national championship since 1987. They become the lowest seed in the tournament to reach the Final Four since unseeded Santa Clara made the semifinals in 2005.

"We're thrilled to reach the Final Four," said coach Dave Shoji. "It's been a goal of ours all year, and I'm not sure how many people thought we would do it. Our players believed and our coaches believed, and now we're going.

"The match was ugly. There was so much on the line, and sometimes you don't play your best. I don't think Michigan played their best. It wasn't the prettiest match, but I think we got some things accomplished that we talked about."

Michigan was making its first trip to the regional final and ended the season 27-10.

Both teams came in off upset victories, having dispatched higher-seeded teams. Hawaii defeated fifth-seeded Illinois and Michigan knocked out No. 4 Stanford on the Cardinal's home court.

Hawaii rolled behind a balanced attack, warming up offensively as the match went along. The Wahine hit .118 as a team in the first set and .324 in the third.

"I think it was probably nerves (to start)," Danielson said. "We were so excited to even make it this far. We tried our best to not think about it and get ready for the first point. A couple of points slid for us. But we hung in there and took care of business."

Michigan played from behind almost the entire match.

"The whole time I felt like we were trying to steal the momentum back from them, and I think they were really rolling," said Michigan setter Lexi Zimmerman. "We had some bad plays, but they just brought their `A' game."

Hawaii outside hitter Amber Kaufman, who left Friday's match in the first set with a strained abdomen, was back Saturday to help her team to the victory. In fact, she served out the final two points of the match, Hawaii scoring on a kill by Ferrell and a kill attempt into the net by Michigan's Juiliana Paz.

Michigan pulled as close as 14-13 in the final set before Hawaii reeled off nine of the next 12 points.

Kaufman finished with eight kills and a .636 hitting percentage.

The Wahine were down 12-8 in the first set before staging a comeback to win. They scored 11 of the next 15 points to assume a 19-16 lead and went up 21-17 on an ace by serving specialist Jayme Lee. Michigan climbed back to 23-23 on a kill by Paz, but Hawaii closed out the set on a kill by Ferrell and a double hit by Michigan.

The Rainbow Wahine moved out front quickly in the second set and ultimately stayed there. Michigan tied it 11-11 on a combo block at the net by Megan Bower and Veronica Rood. But Hawaii pushed out to 15-12 and then 22-17 on a ball dumped over the net by Ferrell, who later closed out the set with a kill.

Michigan was led by sophomore Alex Hunt with 13 kills. Paz finished her career with nine kills and four digs.

The all-tournament team included Zimmerman and Hunt. Hawaii's Dani Mafua, Ferrell and Aneli Cubi-Otineru were also selected along with Stanford's Alix Klineman.