HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Now, the real season begins.
The Rainbow Wahine volleyball team had some ups and downs during the preseason, but after winning four matches straight heading into Big West Conference play, the 'Bows are looking to keep the good times rolling Friday night against UC Irvine and Saturday against UC Davis at the Stan Sheriff Center.
"Everyone's really excited," said Wahine middle hitter Emily Maglio. "We had a tough preseason, of course, but everyone's just looking forward to conference and making sure we can execute everything and get the best results."
After starting the 2017 season under first-year head coach Robyn Ah Mow-Santos, the Wahine stumbled out of the gate, going 2-5 in their first seven matches. Now 6-5 with a record above .500 for the first time this season, the team is taking everything in stride, using adversity to become a stronger team heading into conference play where they're looking to protect their back-to-back conference titles.
"We learned a lot about ourselves — that we're resilient, we have a lot of fight in us," Maglio said. "But we have to start out stronger in the match, like start-off strong in the first set so we can win three instead of five."
The Anteaters of UC Irvine own a 12-1 record coming into this week, including winning a sixth-straight win streak. UC Davis has also been on a roll, winning their last three-straight matches.
Looking for straight set finishes this weekend will be a challenge against either opponent, especially UC Irvine — a team Wahine assistant coach used to mentor just a couple of years ago.
"I coached there two years ago, so I kind of have an idea of what those kids are going to do," Baxter said. "They are a lot more mature now as juniors and seniors. They are a well balanced team … we're gonna have to get them out of system a lot."
The Wahine will have to rely on their team chemistry against UC Irvine, knowing that they can't have one player be the hero on the night.
"For the first time, we're not looking at one or two girls to score for an entire match," Baxter said. "So it becomes this sense of team. If one kid scores, it's because everyone contributed. And that contribution begins from Fall training camp."
Maglio leads the Wahine with 62 blocks (seven solo) and a .368 hitting percentage. She has tallied seven double-digit kill matches, including in four of the last five. Junior outside hitter McKenna Granato leads the team with 164 total kills, averaging 4.10 per set.
Fall training camp seems a long time ago for the team, but Baxter emphasized how important it is for their current form of play to continue.
"Having a win streak of four matches is crucial going into conference," he said. "Our girls are playing some of their best volleyball to date. There's cohesion on the court, they really embrace celebrating someone else's success. It's only going to benefit us, winning those four matches and preparing us for conference play. The team has really bought into that team aspect, and I think that's what a lot of fans are seeing."
First serve against UC Irvine is set for 7 p.m. at the Stan Sheriff Center, where the Wahine will look to move to 37-0 against UC Irvine in program history.