By MATT GERHART
Tribune-Herald sports writer
After the party had ended and the madhouse had cleared, University of Hawaii at Hilo coach Tino Reyes was left to clean up after everyone.
He’d enjoyed the festivities, but as he took down the net, he was already looking ahead.
“I think we were hyped up to play somebody other than ourselves,” he said. “I’d like to see when we play Alaska-Anchorage if we can continue that, because, traditionally, they’ve been the better team of the two.
“The other team is going to get better, so we need to get better.”
Reyes will find out more about his team at 1 p.m. today against the Seawolves back at UHH Gym.
But for a night, at least, all was well in Vulcan land.
Marley Strand-Nicolaisen looked just as comfortable as she did in high school with a match-high 14 kills Thursday and fellow freshman Kyndra Trevino-Scott marked her arrival, too, as re-engineered UHH got a big boost from its re-energized student section to beat Alaska-Fairbanks 25-18, 25-16, 25-17.
“It was insane,” Trevino-Scott said of the crowd of 514. “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 off 11 spikes for an .818 hitting percentage.
“The coolest opening of collegiate volleyball I could have ever imagined,” said the middle blocker from Penryn, Calif.
Another first-year player, junior Callie Aberle, smacked eight kills with a match-high 13 digs.
But the biggest debut belonged to Strand-Nicolaisen, the former 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 an 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.”
There was plenty of action on the court, but Reyes wasn’t sure what was more entertaining: the crowd, or his team. The stands on the north side were full, and with a drummer in tow, the students in one corner chanted, sang and danced 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.
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.
After a season to forget, the Vulcans started off with a night to remember.
The next step, Trevino-Scott said, is more consistency.
“Because we have the tools,” she said. “We can do it.”