Patty Snel was busy on Saturday afternoon at UHH Gym, registering five kills on 46 swings.
By BILL O’REAR
Tribune-Herald sports editor
With a young and inexperienced team, University of Hawaii at Hilo women’s volleyball coach Tino Reyes knows he might find himself occasionally pulling a Clint Eastwood this season and talking to an empty chair on the sidelines during a match.
But those kind of things can happen when you’ve lost one of the top hitters in NCAA Division II volleyball in graduated senior Hillary Hurley and your returning nucleus is a mixture of mostly underclassmen.
“It is what it is,” said Reyes on Saturday afternoon after watching his Vulcans drop their third straight match to open the season, a 25-27, 25-19, 25-17, 25-11 decision to the University of British Columbia (2-0) at the UHH Gym.
The Vulcans lost to Augustana College, S.D., 25-18, 25-15, 25-18 on Saturday night to finish off the Vulcan Classic. On Thursday, Augustana (2-2) defeated UHH 25-17, 25-13, 25-20 in the host’s season opener before the Vuls fell to Nebraska-Kearney 25-14, 25-9, 17-25, 25-12 on Friday evening. In an earlier match Friday, UBC topped Augustana 25-20, 25-18, 25-16.
“We have a small margin of error this year if we’re going to beat teams,” Reyes said. “We’ve got to do all the little things well, especially pass and serve, and we can’t give away any points. We’ve got to play smart. That means we have to limit our errors and take advantage of those opportunities when our opponents make errors.”
The tall Thunderbirds from Vancouver, B.C., enjoyed a huge size advantage Saturday. They have 10 players 6-foot or taller on their 18-player roster this season while UHH (0-4) has only one — 6-1 sophomore Olivia Lane — on Reyes’ 12-player squad. The Canadian visitors used their size to easily hit over the smaller Vulcans, controlled the net with double blocks on almost every UHH return, and served well until the last game on their way to the four-game victory.
“They have a nice team,” Reyes said. “They were able to play to their strengths and take advantage of our weaknesses. But I still like some of the things we’re doing. I thought we passed and served much better than our first two matches, and we had some good attacks when we just weren’t able to finish.
“We’ve also got to be able to use our middle more and not just Olivia (Lane). Plus our hitters need to be more consistent and use different types of shots to score points.”
The third-year UHH coach also wants his ladies to play at a quicker tempo.
“We need to play faster, more at warp speed and to do that, we’ve got to pass the ball a lot better,” Reyes said. “If we can do that and attack quicker, it takes advantage of our quickness and takes away from our opponents’ size advantage. We’re not very big so we have to make up for it in other areas and by playing smart.”
The Vulcans tried to push the offensive tempo in the first game with 5-11 setter Nicole Conley running the attack. But the hustling junior was hampered by a migraine headache and was replaced by promising freshman Jolie Au out of Kaiser on Oahu. The mongoose-quick 5-6 Au went the rest of the way and finished with 17 assists, eight digs and a kill, thanks to a clever dink.
“If you asked Jolie if she expected to play at all this weekend, she probably would have said she didn’t know,” Reyes said. “But we had to throw her in there and see what she could do. She’s a freshman and has to grow up fast, just like a lot of our young players.
“Jolie is athletic and will be a good player for us.”
Lane, a returning starter, led UHH with 10 kills in 22 attempts and zero errors, a blistering .455 hitting clip. But overall as a team, the Vulcans struggled against UBC’s big block. The Thunderbirds had 14.5 blocks compared to the Vuls’ one in the match.
Bria Morgan, a 5-11 freshman outside hitter from Soquel, Calif., followed Lane with eight kills in 38 attempts to go along with 11 errors. But Reyes is high on the strong-armed hitter and believes as she picks up game experience, she’ll only get better.
“She needs to learn how to use different shots and angles,” the Vulcans coach said. “You can’t always drill it through the block. You’ve got to read what’s available and go for the best option.”
Morgan added 11 digs to follow junior Patty Snel in that defensive department. Sophomore Kelia Parrilla, who had a team-high three service aces, had 10 saves as the hosts had 57 digs compared to UBC’s 54.
Two of Parrilla’s clutch aces came with the score tied at 25-25 at the end of Game 1. The Thunderbirds couldn’t handle Parrilla’s shifty floaters and that gave UHH the opening 27-25 win.
UBC, under coach Doug Reimer, took charge midway through games 2, 3 and 4 before holding off late Vulcan rallies to secure the match victory.
“In game 3, we made a nice run to get close and have a chance,” Reyes said. “But then we didn’t pass very well and had a couple of hitting errors, and British Columbia pulled away. If we can cut down on those types of errors, we can stay in the match with a lot of teams.
“We need to get some easy points and not have to always rely on our offense to manufacture the points.”
Snel, a 5-8 opposite hitter and one of the team’s leaders this season, also added five kills in an ironwoman-like 46 swings.
But as a team, the Vulcans hit .016 for the match while the tall T-Birds from Canada had a .229 hitting percentage.
Lisa Barclay, a 6-2 junior outside hitter, led the Thunderbirds with 19 kills in 39 attempts with eight errors, a .282 hitting percentage. Southpaw teammate Rosie Schlaginweit, a 6-0 junior outside hitter, had 14 kills in 29 swings with four errors, a .345 hitting percentage; Shanice Marcelle, a 6-0 senior outside hitter, had nine kills in 28 attempts and four errors; and Mariah Bruinsma, a 6-1 junior middle blocker, chipped in with five kills in 10 swings with an error, a robust .400 hitting percentage.
With that four-pronged hitting attack and a strong blocking wall, the Vulcans had a tough time containing UBC. Thunderbird junior setter Kirsty Setterlund had a match-high 49 assists while Bruinsma had a match-high four aces. Later in the day, UBC was swept by Kearney.
“We don’t have any big hitters,” Reyes said. “It’s kind of like in baseball, we’re going to have to play small ball to be successful. If we can do all of those little things well and play smart, we should be OK. We just want to keep moving in the right direction.”
But Reyes isn’t going to stress too much for now. With a young team, he’s focused on each upcoming match and getting better each time the Vulcans step on to the court.
And if that happen, he’ll probably spend more time talking to his players on the floor and less time staring at an empty chair nearby and wondering if he should talk to it.