HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Last weekend the Rainbow Wahine wrapped-up their final preseason tournament with two wins and a loss, bringing their record to 4-5 heading into regular season play. While those numbers may seem underwhelming for the perennial powerhouse program, it hardly tells the story of the team's progress throughout the preseason. Now as they prepare for final non-conference opponent, as well as Big West play, Hawaii says they're battle-tested and ready to fight - and getting to that point wasn't easy.
"First of all I want to ring Dave's [Shoji] neck for making that such a hard, competitive three weeks," joked head coach Robyn Ah Mow Santos of Hawaii's early season gauntlet.
"I think it's good for them to see what they can do against top, competitive teams that are tournament teams," Ah Mow-Santos added.
After the Wahine started the year 0-2 in their first tournament, things didn't seem quite as positive for the U.H. But, after an impromptu, late night practice following their second loss, Hawaii bounced back and took a UCLA team that's currently ranked 13th in the nation to five sets.
While the match didn't end in a win for U.H., Ah Mow-Santos said it certainly felt like a breakthrough of sorts. In the week that followed, Hawaii's bench boss said it was in that match she could see her team coming together, that she started to see a shift in her squad.
The following weekend, Hawaii picked up two wins in straight sets - their first of the season. But, disappointment hit in the title match of the Rainbow Wahine Classic when U.H. fell to Utah (currently ranked 16th in the nation) in four.
But again, the team bounced back.
Facing arguably their toughest preseason tournament schedule of the year last weekend, Hawaii opened the Outrigger Resorts Volleyball Challenge by taking an undefeated, 10th-ranked BYU team to five sets. After dominant wins in the third and fourth sets of that match (25-16, 25-15 to be specific), U.H. fell again in the fifth.
The next night posed yet another challenge for Hawaii in the form of 2016 NCAA tournament team, Baylor. At that point U.H. hadn't beaten a single tournament team, had fallen in every five set match they'd played in, and were coming fresh off a heartbreaking five set loss to one of the top nation's in the country.
That's when, in night two of the Outrigger Challenge, U.H. finally broke through. Hawaii topped Baylor in five sets and, "broke the curse" as Ah Mow-Santos put it following the match.
Now the gauntlet that is U.H.'s preseason slate is over and the team is looking toward Big West play with a different mindset.
"I think it's good for them to see what they can do against some top, competitive teams that are tournament teams," said Ah Mow-Santos. "Then going into our conference play being a little confident - not too confident, but just having that edge knowing that this team is always fighting to come back... they've learned like hey we can fight back. That never die attitude - that's what they get out of this."
For most of the Rainbow Wahine, their 4-5 record isn't disheartening. If anything it's deceiving of what they've actually accomplished. With their attention now on conference play they say they're thankful for the early challenges they've faced.
"It's just for learning where we're at - just a baseline," said outside hitter, McKenna Granato about the team's preseason performance. "Even though it's not the best record, I think we showed up. We showed with UCLA and BYU that we can play with them. Now we need to work on closing it out."
"Those are just numbers to us," added sophomore setter, Norene Iosia. "I'm just proud of the way that we fought every game. Just not giving up. I'm just excited to see what we can do in conference. I just think it's a different energy and a different style of play for us."
The Rainbow Wahine will host their final non-conference matches of the season when Northern Arizona visits the Stan Sheriff Center for a pair of matches on Friday and Saturday.