This was a little more what the University of Hawaii had in mind.
Shrugging off their first-set blues in a big way Thursday night, Emily Hartong and the Rainbow Wahine eased past Cal Santa Barbara 25-8, 25-19, 25-18 at Stan Sheriff Center in Honolulu.
Hartong, the reigning national volleyball player of the week, ripped 11 kills and took on a much lighter workload as the No. 9 ‘Bows (20-2, 13-0 Big West) welcomed Jane Croson back to the lineup after a seven-match suspension.
UH didn’t suffer a loss while missing its second-leading outside hitter, but it had trailed in its last five matches, losing the opening set four times. The ‘Bows got out of the gates quickly Thursday, however, hitting .429 in the first set and .305 overall to overwhelm the Gauchos (13-13, 6-5).
“I don’t know what it was. We came ready to play,” coach Dave Shoji said. “We can play a lot better. Tonight was a good start.”
Croson put down eight kills but made her biggest impact with a match-high 19 digs as Hawaii won its NCAA-best 68th straight match in conference play.
“Jane gave us great defense. Hitting was OK, but she’s a threat on the back row,” Shoji said. “She’s a volleyball player, and we don’t have enough of those.”
Hartong would certainly fit into that category as well. She earned league and national honors by compiling 63 kills as Hawaii squeaked by in two matches in California. She took 79 swings in both contests.
“It was good to get back to normal,” said Hartong, who attacked only 26 times against the Gauchos. “Ashley (Kastl) did a good gob of filling in (for Croson), but this is good for our offense and distribution.”
Middle blockers Jade Vorster (.412 hitting) and Kalei Adolpho (.636) added nine and eight kills, respectfully, and setter Mita Uiato recorded match highs with three blocks and 34 assists.
Hawaii can lock up its first Big West crown at 7 p.m. Saturday against Cal Poly in Honolulu.
Leah Sully finished with seven kills and 11 digs for the Gauchos (13-13, 6-5), who hit only .086.