Women's Volleyball |
Sept. 7, 2011
By Shawn Sell
On paper, this week's UC Volleyball schedule looks like just another pre-conference tournament against more high-quality opponents. But a closer look paints a picture of a very important weekend for a pair of Bearcats.
It's no secret that long-time UC head coach Reed Sunahara is a native Hawaiian who takes great pleasure in getting to take his team to his homeland to compete once every four years. That's exactly the case this week as the Bearcats gear up for the Verizon Volleyball Challenge beginning on Thursday in Honolulu. But this year's trip is doubly special as one of Sunahara's players, sophomore Juliana Behrens, gets to return to the state that she calls home. To say she has been looking forward to the trip could be an understatement.
"I was really excited," Behrens says of finding out the Bearcats would play in Hawaii this year. "Not a lot of teams get to come here, especially from (places) like Cincinnati. Being here is just awesome. It was even better to tell my mom that I was coming home and she didn't have to pay for it."
The Bearcats arrived in Hawaii on Sunday after a successful weekend at the North Texas Invitational in Denton, Texas. With three full days before kicking off play on Thursday night against Pacific, Sunahara and company took advantage of the chance to enjoy the Hawaiian paradise. In between practices, the Bearcats enjoyed dinner at the home of Behrens' parents, a luau, sightseeing and time at the beach. While it is easy to get caught up in the adventures of being in Hawaii, Sunahara is quick to point out this trip is still business.
"I get to see my family and some friends but it's tough because yes we are in Hawaii but we are also here for a reason; we are here to play volleyball," he says. "I want the team to know and see what Hawaii is about so we will do some sightseeing, but there really isn't time to do a lot even though we are here for a week."
When the Bearcats do get down to business on three consecutive nights against Pacific, Rice and host Hawaii, they will be playing in one of the most well attended venues in all of Division I volleyball (average home attendance of 6,500 this year). That alone makes the cross country trek even more beneficial, according to Sunahara.
"It's good for us because we get to play good competition and in front of a big crowd," he says. "That's why we come, so the girls can get the experience of playing in front of good volleyball fans that are educated on the game and that cheer for good plays and good teams."
While the road will be a challenging one for the Bearcats this weekend-Hawaii is ranked 12th nationally and Rice (3-2) and Pacific (6-1) both sport winning records-UC comes to the island on a roll. After suffering through a 1-3 showing at the Northern Illinois Invitational, the Bearcats knocked off regional foe Kentucky, before roaring to the tournament championship at North Texas, including an upset of No. 17 Oklahoma. They will look to carry that momentum into this weekend's action.
"The first weekend was crazy to go 1-3 and then last week, we go 4-0; it's night and day," Sunahara says. "We made a few adjustments, but the kids are resilient. They are working and they want to do well and be the best they can be."
"I hope the momentum carries over, that is the goal," he continues. "The reason why we play good teams is because we want to be the best. We've had a tough schedule already; we've played three top-25 teams and I think Kentucky should be one."
While Sunahara is sure to see and interact with many old faces, Behrens too is likely to see some familiar faces, especially on the other side of the net during Saturday night's contest against the host Wahine. Included in that group will be Hawaii's star outside hitter Kanani Danielson and her team-leading 3.73 kills per set.
"I will be playing against players I played against in high school," Behrens says "Danielson, their big outside hitter, I remember when I played against her my sophomore year when she was a junior. It will be high school memories all over again."
As exciting as this week's trip to Hawaii will be for all of the UC Volleyball team, two members, head coach Sunahara and Behrens have extra motivation as they return to the land they've called home throughout their lives. Both have high hopes for their time on the island this week.
"I always want to do well period, but I want to do well in Hawaii because people know who I am (there)," Sunahara says.
"I definitely want to do well while I am here especially since I have all these people watching me and expecting a lot out of me," Behrens adds. "I just want to make them all proud."