There's no question what the hot ticket on Maui is this week.
Friday night's sold-out exhibition women's volleyball match pitting the University of Hawaii against Nebraska at War Memorial Gym will give a taste of top-level play to fans who don't often get that chance.
Last season, the Rainbow Wahine went 31-2 and finished No. 5 in the final coaches poll, falling to Southern California in the NCAA regional semifinals. The Cornhuskers went 25-5 and ended up ranked No. 12 after being upset in the NCAA second round by Kansas State.
Playing as a true freshman, Kalei Adolpho helped the University of Hawaii women’s volleyball team to a 31-2 record last season
HAWAII ATHLETICS photo
"Nebraska and Hawaii are known for volleyball, so it's going to be a tough, long, interesting, exciting match overall," said Ginger Long, a former Maui Interscholastic League Division I Player of the Year at Kamehameha Schools Maui who redshirted last season at UH.
"Even our boosters who live here on Oahu are coming to Maui for the game because they know it's going to be that good," she said.
The tickets are so in demand that Long is scrambling for extras.
"We get our tickets for our family and friends, but we only get four," she said. "So people have come up to me and to my parents saying, 'Oh no, it's sold out. What do we do?' "
Long has even turned to her teammates for help.
"With their extra tickets, I'm like, 'Can I please have?' " she laughed.
Also representing Maui County will be Kalei Adolpho, a former Molokai standout and two-time MIL Division II Player of the Year. She said it will be "a great honor" to play in front of Valley Isle fans.
"All of high school was played on Maui, and I have some family on Maui who are real excited to come," Adolpho said. "I remember playing in War Memorial, and just coming back there as a college athlete and playing at the level I'm playing, I think that will just be really cool to soak in."
Long saw her first action with the team last week, contributing two kills and a dig during a win over Nittaidai of Japan in an exhibition match on March 14 at the Stan Sheriff Center.
"I was really happy to get to play, even though it was only for a few points, but anything to contribute to the team is good," Long said. "I was a little nervous. Even though it was just an exhibition match, there's so many people watching and when you make a mistake they really make it known. With that also, it really helps you play well, so it was a great experience."
Adolpho played in 25 matches last season, finishing with 54 kills and 56 blocks.
"I'm really grateful for the time I've gotten as a freshman and it just makes me a lot more confident coming into this year," she said.
Adolpho plays for the UH basketball team as well, while Long is a member of the school's inaugural sand volleyball squad.
Sand and indoor volleyball operate as combined programs, with 12 of 15 sand volleyball players coming from the indoor squad. UH hosted Nittaidai and Hawaii Pacific in its first matches Saturday in Waikiki.
Long said that besides being "really, really fun," sand volleyball is a great way to train between seasons.
"Sand volleyball helps with your indoor and your defense, and also your jumping because you're jumping in sand," Long explained. "And overall, being able to consistently touch the ball as well as being in the sand helps with us getting to move faster, and it really shows when we play indoor."
Long said being on the sidelines last season helped her adjust to the indoor program.
"It was really good for me to redshirt and to just get a better sense of what it's going to be like for the next four years," she said, adding that she's prepared to contribute this season.
"Being in the weight room, I've gotten a lot stronger, and then being able to play at this caliber is really helping me to improve in all the skills, especially my passing. I've been working on that a lot lately, because that's what an outside hitter needs to do," Long said.
Adolpho, a middle blocker, will also have an opportunity to see more playing time this season. Brittany Hewitt, the WAC's top blocker with 126 last season, will not return to the team for her senior year.
"She was a huge part of the team," Adolpho said. "I'm definitely going to have to step up and contribute more and do more for the team. I'm going to have to step it up and fill that gap as soon as possible."
* Lehia Apana is at firstname.lastname@example.org