By WES NAKAMA
Stephens Media Hawaii
HONOLULU — The University of Hawaii women’s volleyball team is reaping the benefits of a traditionally tough early nonconference schedule.
Despite extremely rare back-to-back road losses last week at Cal State Northridge and Cal Davis, the Rainbow Wahine are ranked No. 15 in the latest Ratings Percentage Index, which means they are still in the running for a first and second-round host bid in the NCAA Tournament.
UH is 16-4 overall and a surprising 5-3 in the Big West Conference, tied for third place with Long Beach State (5-3) and two matches behind co-leaders Cal State Northridge and Cal Santa Barbara (both 7-1).
But the Rainbow Wahine still are the only Big West team ranked in the Top 16 in RPI, which is a key ingredient in earning a Top 16 NCAA Tournament seed. By rule, the top 16 teams should receive an opportunity to host the first and second rounds.
Credit early season victories over No. 1 Texas and No. 7 Creighton for UH’s still-strong RPI, but another Big West loss surely would be devastating since no other Big West team is even in the top 40.
The Rainbow Wahine return to the Stan Sheriff Center for a crucial homestand vs. Cal Irvine (11-11, 2-6) on Friday and Long Beach State (12-9) on Saturday. Both matches are set for 7 p.m. and will be televised live statewide on OC16.
SOCCER FINALE SUNDAY: With its Big West Tournament hopes all but dashed, the UH women’s soccer team will likely play its final game of the season at noon Sunday vs. Cal State Northridge at Waipi‘o Peninsula Soccer Stadium.
The Rainbow Wahine are 7-8-1 overall and 2-4-1 in the Big West, but what counts most is their point total of 7 (3 points for each victory, 1 point for a tie). That puts them in seventh place, and only the top four teams in the regular season standings will qualify for the tournament.
Cal Poly San Luis Obispo (18 points) and Cal Irvine (15) are in, so the final two berths will come from Cal State Fullerton (10), Cal Santa Barbara (9), Cal Riverside (9), Long Beach State (8), Hawaii or Cal Davis (7 each).
But since the maximum points UH can get is 10, the Rainbow Wahine will only be alive in the postseason hunt today if Cal Poly SLO beats Cal Davis and Cal State Fullerton beats Long Beach State. Then on Sunday, Hawaii must beat Cal State Northridge (6-11-1, 1-5-1) and Cal Riverside and Long Beach State must play to a tie, and Cal Davis also must tie or beat UCSB.
The best-case scenario would then be a three-way tie for fourth between Cal Riverside, Hawaii and either UCSB or Cal Davis, each with 10 points.
Whatever the case, Sunday’s game will be the final home appearance for Rainbow Wahine seniors Male Fresquez, Bree Locquiao, Karli Look, McKenzie McGoldrick, Chelsea Miyake and Skye Shimabukuro.
MEN’S BASKETBALL EXHIBITION GAME: After nearly an entire month of practice, the UH men’s basketball team will finally get to play an exhibition game today vs. Brigham Young-Hawaii at the Stan Sheriff Center. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m.
The Rainbow Warriors are coming off a 17-15 season and return All-Big West forward Christian Standhardinger and Big West Co-Freshman of the Year Isaac Fotu, along with part-time starters Brandon Spearman and Brandon Jawato, plus transfer point guard Keith Shamburger (a starter at San Jose State in 2012).
WAHINE GOLFERS VIE FOR HISTORIC VICTORY: The UH women’s golf team leads the Rainbow Wahine Invitational by two strokes after the second round Wednesday at Leilehua Golf Course. The final round is today.
Hawaii’s most recent tournament victory came at the 1996 Lady Bronc Classic.
The Rainbow Wahine have a two-round score of 304-295—599, two strokes ahead of New Mexico State. UH freshman Raquel Ek shot a 1-over 73 and is in third place among individuals at 147 for the tournament.
Ek is trying to become the first Rainbow Wahine individual to win a tournament since Lynne McCool at the Utah-Dixie Classic in 1991.
Four other Rainbow Wahine are in the top 10: Freshman Izzy Leung (tied for fourth, 73-149), sophomore Nichole Cruz, freshman Brianna Becker and senior Charlee Kapiioho (each tied for seventh at 150).