Rainbow Wahine volleyball team looking past lost season

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Jason Kaneshiro, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser
·4 min read
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Apr. 18—Robyn Ah Mow has enough going on to keep her from dwelling on this week's happenings in Nebraska.

The Hawaii women's volleyball coach is running spring practices with the Rainbow Wahine while keeping up with her ever-present recruiting duties. So she hasn't had much time to keep up with the NCAA tournament being held in Omaha, the first without the Rainbow Wahine since 1992.

"I watched some games here and there (this season ), but Coach Kaleo (Baxter ) is a one that comes in the gym and he's like, 'Oh, did you hear about this ?' " Ah Mow said. "I don't really have time to like sit and watch TV. I'm just busy and I got my three kids at home. ... I haven't really tracked it."

While the downsized 48-team NCAA tournament continues without Hawaii for only the second time in its 40-year history, just being back in the gym—even with a limited roster this spring—was a welcome change for the Wahine after seeing their 2020 season canceled due to the pandemic.

The Wahine practiced last August with an eye on possibly competing later in the year or this spring. But those hopes were snuffed in December when the Big West announced it would not hold its 2020 fall sports schedules, canceling the seasons for UH's women's volleyball, soccer and cross country teams.

After processing the disappointment, the Wahine were able to keep in shape in the weight room and before being allowed to return to the gym after spring break last month.

"It's better than the first time they came in in August, so that's an improvement, " Ah Mow said of the spring sessions focusing on skill work.

"They hadn't touched a ball since August, so I like the progress. They're listening, making changes. We don't have enough to play six-on-six, but this is good for them working slow, working on things that they have to get better on."

With 14 players on the 2020 roster, Ah Mow has six to eight players to work with in a given session this spring with close to half the team competing with the beach volleyball program under Angelica Ljungqvist, who doubles as the indoor associate coach and beach head coach.

Among the senior class, middle blocker Skyler Williams and libero Kyra Hanawahine are among the players in the gym with Brooke Van Sickle playing on the beach. Ah Mow said Jolie Rasmussen is spending the spring focusing on school.

While the Wahine have limited numbers in the gym, Ah Mow said playing in the sand has been beneficial for the players competing with the BeachBows, who went undefeated in a tournament in Washington on Friday and Saturday.

"You've actually got to do everything—serve, pass, hit, block, defense—so that's that's really good, especially for the outside hitters, " Ah Mow said. "I think it's really helping (sophomore Tiffany Westerberg ) a lot. ... She's a utility player for us, she's a middle, she's outside, she's right side. I think it's good for her to get all of that experience and touching the ball."

Middle blocker Amber Igiede is in her first season playing beach volleyball and has spent much of the season in UH's top two flights playing with Van Sickle.

"Amber is just a crazy athlete. She just goes and she just gets dirty, " Ah Mow said. "I think she's doing a pretty good job to get all the passing and the defensive reps."

The indoor practices will run until the end of the month and Ah Mow and the coaching staff are also working on preparing to welcome five incoming freshmen to the roster for next season. She's also looking forward to being able to return to in-person recruiting this summer after being limited to scouting via video for the past year.

Beyond that, the fall and a return to game nights at SimpliFi Arena at Stan Sheriff Center beckon for the Wahine.

"I've been waiting for August, " she said. "That is the plan, and if everyone follows mandates then we'll hit August and maybe we can have some fans."

The 48-team NCAA tournament, down from the customary 64 teams, opened last Wednesday, with the regional semifinals and final set for today and Monday. The final four will be played Thursday and the championship match on Saturday in Omaha's CHI Health Center.