Rainbow Wahine volleyball ready for rival UC Santa Barbara

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Oct. 22—Through the first four weeks of the Big West volleyball season, Hawaii coach Robyn Ah Mow made sure to keep the Rainbow Wahine focused on the next step rather than let their gaze wander to the standings or the upcoming schedule.

"We always tell them don't look three matches ahead. We're always going to take care of the next day and the next day, " Ah Mow said this week.

As the Wahine took care of their first eight matches of the conference season, UC Santa Barbara kept pace for the first seven before a surprising stumble last weekend.

Their paths converge today in Santa Barbara, Calif., when the Gauchos (12-9, 8-1 BWC ) play host to the Wahine (11-5, 8-0 ) in a matchup of the Big West's top two teams.

"Santa Barbara's always really a scrappy team, " Ah Mow said. "They're going to play scrappy defense, they've got some hitters, I think it's going to be a great match."

UH's run of 19 consecutive Big West victories began with a sweep at UC Santa Barbara on Oct. 12, 2019. The Wahine rallied to win a five-set duel in the rematch in Manoa about a month later in what would be an 11-match winning streak to close the regular season on their way to claiming the conference title.

The Wahine have won their past 12 sets and take on a UCSB team that dropped just two sets in winning its first seven conference matches.

The Gauchos fell a game behind UH with a four-set loss to UC Davis last Saturday, then bounced back with a commanding 25-19, 25-21, 25-15 sweep of Cal State Northridge on Tuesday at the Thunderdome.

The Gauchos hit.423 as a team with 52 kills and 11 errors and enter today's match with the Big West's most efficient attack at.263, led by a two-setter system of Punahou graduate Mehana Ma'a and junior Grace Kloss.

Ma'a, the daughter of former UH standouts Lisa Strand and Pono Ma'a, transferred to UCSB after helping lead Cal State San Bernardino to a 33-0 season and the Division II national championship in 2019. She is averaging 6.50 assists per set in Big West matches while sharing time with Kloss (6.70 ).

Hawaii, meanwhile, is holding opponents to a league-low.185 and leads the conference with 2.50 blocks per set.

"I would say blocking has come a long way for us because we've really been trying to be a good defensive team on the net, " said UH middle blocker Amber Igiede, who leads the conference with 1.43 blocks per set in Big West matches.

"Our back row is really good, but on the net we've been really trying to have fast hands over on the block and just have good vision on the net. The work has paid off, but it's still growing."

UH setter Kate Lang said she had "a new level of connection " with the middles after Igiede had 10 kills in 15 errorless attempts and Skyler Williams put away nine kills in last Saturday's sweep of Cal State Bakersfield. Igiede is hitting.379 with 3.11 kills per set over the past eight matches, with Williams at.341 and 2.22 kps.

UCSB counters with productive middles in Rowan Ennis (.416, 1.94 ) and Deni Wilson (.402, 2.16 ).

While freshman Michelle Ohwobete leads the regulars with 218 total kills, Ma'a and Kloss can also spread the sets to sophomore Tallulah Froley (2.91 kps ) and freshman Abrielle Bross (2.42 ).

After today's match the Wahine will reach the halfway point of the Big West season with Saturday's match at Cal State Northridge (4-15, 3-6 ).

Note Video of today's match is scheduled to be streamed on UCSBGauchos.com, with former Hawaii beach volleyball All-American Katie Spieler serving as the color analyst.

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