Last season, the University of Hawaii women's volleyball team was seeded 10th in the NCAA tournament and - after No. 2 Nebraska fell in an early upset to Pepperdine - could have reached the Final Four without leaving home.
A five-set loss to Southern California in the round of 16 derailed the Rainbow Wahine's hopes, ending the freshman season for Molokai High School graduate Kalei Adol-pho and a redshirt season for Kamehameha Maui's Ginger Long.
This year, after a 26-2 mark in the regular season that included an 18-0 run through the Big West and a No. 8 spot in the latest American Volleyball Coaches Association poll, UH is unseeded.
Kalei Adolpho had a .349 hitting percentage and 100 blocks for Hawaii during the regular season.
UNIVERSITY OF HAWAII / Courtney Metzger photo
"Right after the seeding came out (Sunday), we watched it together, and we had a little team meeting and the first thing Dave (Shoji, the UH coach) said was, 'This is something you can't control,' " Adolpho said. "That's the situation we're in and we're just going to have to make the best of it."
The Rainbow Wahine will face Santa Clara on Friday in a first-round match in Seattle. A win would likely pit UH against 13th-seeded Washington on the Huskies' home floor Saturday.
"I personally think and I know a lot of the girls and the coaching staff thinks that we should have gotten a seed," Long said, "but that's just the way that it turns out and in order to win we have to end up beating everybody anyway, so I think our lower seed has more motivation for us to do even better."
NCAA Seattle Subregional
All times HST
All matches on OCSP
Hawaii (26-2) vs. Santa Clara (20-11), 3 p.m.
Washington (23-6) vs. C. Arkansas (30-4), 5 p.m.
Hawaii-Santa Clara winner vs. Washington-C. Arkansas winner, 5 p.m.
The disappointment didn't last long - Shoji said Tuesday's practice was one of the Rainbow Wahine's best of the season, especially for the middle blocker group, including the 6-foot-1 Adolpho.
The team departed for Seattle on a red-eye flight Tuesday evening.
"We just kind of forgot about how it was unfair or what we thought about it," Adolpho said. "We are all excited to go out and hopefully go far and prove that they seeded us wrong."
Santa Clara (20-11) finished fourth in the West Coast Conference, which sent six teams to the tournament.
"They are almost like a Big West team, they are pretty scrappy, they have two big middles," Shoji said. "(Adol-pho) will have to play well for us to win, that's for sure. She has been giving us some really added offense and she really needs to block some balls. She is a big part of our team, so she needs to come up big."
Adolpho hit .349 with 100 blocks in 27 starts this season.
"Every once in a while she looks like an All-American-type player," Shoji said. "She is a little up and down, she has some really great games and then some games where she has struggled. She has the ability, she just needs to refine all of her skills. By the time she is a senior she'll be an All-American, I think."
Adolpho has emerged from shy freshman to stalwart on the front line. She nearly tripled her kill total from last season, from 54 to 155.
"I hope I came far, but it really doesn't feel like I'm making too much of an improvement," said Adolpho, who started playing volleyball as a high school freshman. "I know there's a long way for me to go. That's the No. 1 thing Dave always tells me: 'I need you to make volleyball plays, I need you to make volleyball plays.' So, there are things that I'm continuing to learn and I definitely have more to work on I just want to keep getting better."
Long has 12 aces this season, sixth on the team and best among reserves.
"I'm enjoying it," she said. "My role on the team is obviously not a big part, but it's an important role and I'm happy just to contribute to our team's success in any way."
Adolpho said Long is an important piece of the puzzle.
"I don't know if the stats show it, but she had a couple really great assists and digs some good balls and covers the court really well," Adolpho said. "The things she does don't really show in the stats, but she makes great plays, brings that fresh body on the court, like a spark off the bench."
Long laughed when a similar question came up.
"We help out each other," she said. "It's really funny, some of the games when I get to go in as a sub for her and serve, I come to the line and she's, like, 'Oh, thank you so much. I don't have to serve.' So I'm always cheering for her and hoping the best for her and our entire team, so it's good."
At 5-11, Long is the shortest outside hitter on the roster besides first-team All-Big West selection Jane Croson.
"Ginger has been our serving specialist, especially on the road." Shoji said. "At home, we have got more of a selection, but she has been doing a really nice job on the road for us. Ginger is in a tough spot because we have got a lot of good outside hitters and she is down the depth chart a little bit as far as being a hitter, but certainly she has a good role now, she's important to the team. Just time will tell if she can move up on the depth chart."
Adolpho said being on the road may relieve some of the pressure that comes with playing elimination matches.
"I just remember the USC match, every ball you could just see the crowd go, 'Ohhh,' " she said. "You could feel the tension. Being away, maybe we won't have that."
Long added, "I think that our team is ready and we will do very well."
* Robert Collias is at firstname.lastname@example.org