By MATT GERHART
Tribune-Herald sports writer
A predictable hitting attack. Inexperience at setter. Inconsistency at middle blocker.
Just when the young University of Hawaii at Hilo volleyball team improves in one facet, it struggles in another. The Vulcans are going through their fair share of growing pains, and the road doesn’t figure to get any easier today against Cal Baptist, which comes in riding an eight-match winning streak.
“We’re going to try to serve the stink out of the ball and hopefully we can pass the stink out of the ball,” UHH coach Tino Reyes said. “If we can do that, then we have a chance. If we don’t do that, then we can’t compete.”
The Vuls finally started to serve and pass well enough in the late stages of Monday’s loss against Point Loma, but by then the Sea Lions’ blockers were able to zero in on Bria Morgan to finish off a sweep, 25-23, 25-20, 25-22.
After losing to a team that entered tied for 12th near the bottom of the conference, the Vulcans (4-11, 4-5 Pacific West) must quickly regroup before continuing their three-match homestand at 7 p.m. tonight at UHH Gym against a Lancers squad that’s the league’s co-leader.
Led by outside hitter Ingrid Carmona, Cal Baptist (13-2, 6-0) is second in the league in hitting (.239). UHH is 13th out of 14 teams .131.
Morgan, a freshman, finished with 21 kills Monday, but she took 61 swings — 29 more than any player on either team — and she made 12 attack errors against a defense focused on stopping her.
Senior Patty Snel played well and didn’t make an error on her 29 swings. She finished with 10 kills to go along with 19 digs, but beyond those two outside hitters, UHH’s attack was virtually nonexistent.
“Our offense, we’re going to set Bria, we’re going to set Patty,” Reyes said after Monday’s loss. “There’s no secret about it. And if (freshman outside hitter) Andi (Pickens) chips in a little bit and then we can get the ball to the middle, and they do something with it, then that’s a good thing. We couldn’t do it.”
Only two other players netted kills, one apiece by sophomore middle blockers Abbey Wade and Olivia Lane.
“Even if we pass well, we still don’t have a middle attack,” Reyes said. “It’s in progress.”
Morgan and Carmona are both in the top five in the league in points (kills, aces, blocks). However, Carmona, outside hitter Malika O’Brien and middle blocker Faith Steinwedell all rank among the top 15 in the league in hitting percentage for the Lancers.
Another obstacle for UHH is that freshman Jolie Au still is adjusting to unexpectedly becoming the team’s full-time setter. The Vulcans are last in the league in assists, but Au is a player that Reyes is high on.
“She’s doing a wonderful job considering she’s a freshman,” Reyes said. “Having said that, we have to get better. Sometimes it gets over her head. If things are not going our way, there’s a lot of pressure on her.
“She’s driving the car, where she thought she was going to be a passenger in the thing.”
If the Vulcans need a rallying point entering today’s match, they don’t have to look any further than last Saturday. UHH battled point-for-point at times against Fresno Pacific, the other PacWest co-leader, before losing in three sets to end its road trip 3-2.
Reyes was encouraged by the way his team competed, but that wasn’t the case Monday as he juggled his lineup.
“You don’t get to play if you don’t do your assignments. That’s sometimes what happens with our team,” he said. “It kind of floats around. It’s your turn today; it’s your turn tomorrow. We can’t be a good team that way.”