HILO — Replacing a program-changing player like Hillary Hurley is no laughing matter. But in this instance, University of Hawaii at Hilo volleyball coach Tino Reyes did all he could just to keep from rolling on his office floor.
The question: Are there any benefits now that Hurley is no longer on the team?
The answer took some time as Reyes laughed out loud for a good 20 seconds before he could respond.
“What was the question again? I’ll have to think about that for a while,” he said as he began to laugh again. “You stumped me.”
The more pertinent question is how will the Vulcans replace the hitting production from the former Pacific West Conference player of the year?
“We don’t. We kind of hope that we’re going to be a little bit more balanced,” Reyes said. “We’re not sure where we’re going to get the kills, but maybe somebody will step up, and that’s the fun thing about it.”
As Hurley gets set to begin her pro career in Sweden, new-look UH-Hilo starts life without her. The Vulcans aren’t really sure what to expect when they open their season at home at 7 p.m. Thursday against Augustana (S.D.), the first of four matches in a three-day span.
Senior Patty Vine-Snel anticipates a work-in-progress that is peaking toward the end of the season.
“We still have to get stronger,” she said. “It’s going to take a while for everybody to develop to where we have to by November, but little by little, we can do it.
“We’re not the same team that we’ll be in November. Which is good.”
For the record, sophomore Olivia Lane led the team in hitting percentage last season, but the offense flowed through Hurley, and the two-sport star constantly delivered the hammer to carry the Vulcans (15-7, 11-5 Pacific West Conference) to the postseason.
With a slew of fresh faces and at least four freshmen who will contribute right away, Reyes believes UH-Hilo has improved itself in many facets. However, he fears a lack of arms may be the Vulcans’ undoing.
“If we can figure out how to score points, we’re going to be a nice team,” he said. “On the defensive side we’re pretty good; on ball-handling we’re pretty good. We just don’t have a lot of velocity on the ball, and it’s hard to tell if we’re going to get away with that.”
Lane, a 5-foot-11 middle blocker, will take on a bigger role after a solid freshman season. Her 148 kills are more than seven times as many as any other returning Vulcan (Vine-Snel had 20 at libero). Among the regulars, only Lane and the setters are returning to the position they played last season. The goal is to get her two to three more swings a set in hopes that she’ll flourish as the Vulcans break in two new outside hitters.
“I’m ready for that,” she said. “I want to get the ball more and be ready for that whenever I can.”
Vine-Snel, 5-8, is switching positions for the second time at UH-Hilo. She moved from outside hitter to libero to help fill a void in ball-control earlier in her career, but now she’s going to opposite hitter to help the Vulcans find an arm. She’s got a new name as well after marrying Dirk Snel, a former UH-Hilo basketball and soccer player, in the offseason.
Freshman Bria Morgan and sophomore Abbey Wade are the new outside hitters. Both are 5-11 and from California, though Wade comes to Hilo after a season at Western Nebraska Community College.
UH-Hilo is counting on another freshman, 5-7 Cassady Granado, at middle blocker.
“We’re going to have to spread it out a lot more than last year, for sure,” Lane said. “The front line is going to have to step up, and everyone is going to have to be ready for the ball.
“Hopefully as a middle, I can do the same. Filling in a little bit of the gap, can’t fill it all.”
Reyes called libero a toss up between a pair of Kamehameha-Oahu graduates: junior Kelia Parrilla and freshman Autumn Chong, who’s from Waimea.
Parrilla played in all 22 matches last year, but Chong has impressed her coach during training camp.
“She’s a nice player,” Reyes said. “Because of her the ball-control goes up real high.”
There’s also an ongoing battle at setter between incumbent Nicole Conley, a junior who led the team with 482 assists last season, and Honolulu freshman Jolie Au, whose greatest asset is her defense.
The Vulcans were picked to finish sixth in the reconfigured 14-team PacWest, with BYU-Hawaii tabbed as the favorite. But the voting meant little to Reyes.
“If we get better, I’ll be happy,” he said.
Perhaps because she’s been designated as the “team mom,” Vine-Snel was able to come up with a few benefits of the program having to move on without Hurley.
“Now that she’s gone, everybody can contribute a little more,” she said. “The game can be more fun and a little more diverse. So even though we’ll miss her a lot, we can grow into a more complete team.”
Somewhere nearby, her coach was still laughing.
c Notes: UH-Hilo hosts the four-team Vulcan Classic on Friday and Saturday. Augustana and Nebraska-Kearney play at 11 a.m. Friday, followed by Augustana College and the University of British Columbia at 3 p.m. In the 7 p.m. nightcap, UH-Hilo meets Kearney. On Saturday, the Vulcans face British Columbia at 11 a.m. and Kearney at 7 p.m. Kearney and UBC play at 3 p.m. … UH-Hilo did not have anybody named to the preseason all-PacWest team. … Hawaii Pacific junior Chelsea Buyuan, a Waiakea graduate, made the first team at libero.