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UHH volleyball preview: Vulcans banking on growth potential

UHH volleyball

Coach: Tino Reyes

Last season: 11-14

Returning starters: 6

Player to watch: Sophomore Marley Strand-Nicolaisen

Season-opener: Deamen College, 3 p.m. Friday, Laie, Oahu

Tino Reyes has few qualms with the debuts turned in by Marley Strand-Nicolaisen, Kyndra Trevino-Scott and Sienna Davis. But, recalling an age-old coach’s axiom, he’s glad 2013 is over.

It’s time to turn the page and see what everyone has learned.

“One good thing about freshman is they become sophomores,” Reyes said. “Expect maturity in all three, for sure.”

Just how much they’ve improved will go a long way in determining the fortunes for a University of Hawaii at Hilo volleyball team that largely returns intact. Last season, the trio helped the Vulcans increase their win total by seven matches from the previous year.

However, Reyes remembers the pitfalls of relying so much on freshmen showed up on the road. UHH won just once away from home and finished 11-14.

“We have a lot more confidence, we know the game a lot better and we know what Tino wants us to do,” Strand-Nicolaisen said.

The Ka’u High graduate said she started slowly last year. Meanwhile, Trevino-Scott developed a quick chemistry with setter Davis and posted eye-popping hitting efficiency — .818 in one victory, .625 in another — as UHH reeled off five consecutive wins to start the season.

Strand-Nicolaisen eventually found her groove, settled into the role of No. 1 hitting option and walked away with Pacific West Conference Freshman of the Year, averaging 3.67 kills per set on .161 hitting.

“Toward the end, I felt my game really improved,” Strand-Nicolaisen said. “The more reps you get the better you are going to be.”

As Strand-Nicolaisen grew as an outside hitter last season, Reyes also saw her grow as a passer. If he had to pick one area the team has improved the most, it’s ball-handling.

It starts with Strand-Nicolaisen, who in Reyes’ eyes has become an all-around player.

“Marley has been exceptional,” Reyes said. “If they serve Marley, that’s a good thing for us. At times last year she was a target. This year, she’s a lot more steady.

“She has just become a real nice volleyball player. Maybe she just drank some water down in Ka’u.”

The Vulcans were picked to finish 11th in the PacWest by the coaches, and Reyes’ sense is his program is still one solid recruiting class away from competing with BYU-Hawaii and becoming a title contender.

But, he says, a top-three PacWest finish is a realistic goal and might be enough to gain a spot in regionals. He’ll be able to make a better assessment after this weekend. UHH has three matches on tap on Oahu, opening the season against Deamen College (N.Y.) at 3 p.m. Friday in Laie.

“Since everyone is returning, we want to come together as a team and, of course, we want to make the playoffs,” said Strand-Nicolaisen, a slender 6-footer. “I think we have all the talent we need. We’re a much better team than last year.”

Reyes is looking for another arm to deliver firepower. He toyed with the idea of moving Davis to get her more swings, but decided against it.

Sophomore outside hitter Allee Johnson started six matches last season, and Reyes targeted her as one of the team’s most improved players.

“She certainly has tools to be a good player,” Reyes said. “She’s done it in spurts.”

He likes the steadiness and blocking that senior Stacey Witt brings on the right side, while two more players in the outside hitting derby are Callie Aberle and Morgan Lees, both of whom will come off the bench. Aberle was UHH’s third-leading hitter last season, but Reyes said the senior’s not swinging as hard in practice as she was last season. Lees is a transfer from Long Beach State who could see time on the right side.

As a middle blocker last season, Trevino-Scott was the only Vul to clear .200 in attack percentage. The most experienced Vul is senior outside hitter Abbey Wade, who enters her third year in the program.

Reyes was more than happy with the production last season from libero Kahea Vento-Rowe. A senior, the Hilo High graduate also will back up Davis at setter.

“Fans will like the product we put on the court, because we’re going to play hard,” Reyes said.


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