By MATT GERHART
Tribune-Herald sports writer
The students were so amped up, coach Tino Reyes didn’t know whether to pay attention to the stands or his team. And out on the court, the University of Hawaii at Hilo gave him plenty to see.
Marley Strand-Nicolaisen got the party started on her college volleyball career with a match-high 14 kills Thursday night, and a crowd that was fit for a carnival had ample reason to celebrate as the Vulcans swept Alaska-Fairbanks 25-18, 25-16, 25-17 before 512 enthusiastic partisans in their opener at UHH gym.
“It was insane,” said Kyndra Trevino-Scott, a freshman from Northern California who played pretty breathtakingly herself. “I didn’t know what to expect. It was, honestly, the coolest thing ever.”
Feeding off the preseason chemistry she’s developed with freshman setter Sienna Davis, Trevino-Scott connected on nine of 11 spikes for an .818 hitting percentage.
“The coolest opening of collegiate volleyball I could have ever imagined,” said the middle blocker.
Another first-year player, junior Callie Aberle, smacked eight kills with a match-high 13 digs.
But the biggest debut belonged to Strand-Nicolaisen, who looked just as comfortable as she did when she was a two-time Big Island Interscholastic Federation player of the year at Ka‘u High School.
She registered her first college kills back-to-back early in the first set, and then she put down another ball and combined with Shelby Harguess on a block to get UHH off and running on a 8-0 run.
“She didn’t play like a freshman,” Reyes said. “We knew she was athletic. I wasn't sure what her mindset was going to be, but she came out pretty good.”
And the re-engineered Vulcans took full advantage their re-energized crowd. The stands on the north side were full, and with a drummer in tow, the students in one corner chanted, danced and frolicked the match away.
“There was a lot of action (in the stands),” Reyes said. “I was watching the crowd more than I was watching our team.
“I don’t know where all the kids came from. I told our team to go and make sure that they come back.”
It was almost too easy for UHH, which was coming off a 4-17 season.
Sam Harthun led her team with 11 kills, but the Nanooks hit -.019.
UHH, which figures to face a stiffer test when it hosts Alaska-Anchorage at 1 p.m. Saturday, hit .229.
Strand-Nicolaisen (eight digs, .242 hitting), Harguess and junior Abbey Wade each contributed five block assists, and Davis compiled 29 assists. Celebrating her 21st birthday, Kahealani Vento-Rowe had seven digs.
“The setter did a nice job, considering we've been going nine days,” Reyes said. “I think we were hyped to play somebody other than ourselves.
“The other team is going to get better, so we need to get better.”