HONOLULU – Last weekend was a rough one for three of the University of Hawaii’s “marquee” spring sports, as the baseball, softball and men’s volleyball teams went a combined 0-for-8 in crucial conference competition.
In all three cases, it’s not as if each team played terrible, and to be fair, in each case the Rainbow Warriors/Wahine were facing the top team in the league.
But what each sweep represents is the fact that if every UH team wants to “chase championships,” as football coach Norm Chow promised his team would upon his hiring in December 2011, they and their fans will need to step up their game. Because as Cal Poly San Luis Obispo (baseball), Long Beach State (softball) and Pepperdine (men’s volleyball) showed last weekend, Hawaii’s conference rivals definitely have stepped up theirs
Just two weeks ago, the Rainbow Warriors were looking like they indeed could compete for the Big West championship — or at least an NCAA Tournament at-large berth — after taking two of three games (and almost winning the third) at then-No. 10 UC Santa Barbara.
But since then, UH has suffered back-to-back three-game sweeps at home at the hands of UC Irvine and Cal Poly and is now 14-19, 2-7 in the Big West. Neither of those records indicates a potential conference champion or NCAA tournament qualifier.
UC Irvine and Cal Poly are tied atop the Big West standings at 8-1, so the Rainbow Warriors’ six straight losses were all “quality” defeats, if there is such a thing. And the scores were sometimes close (three by one run). But the losing streak also places UH in a tie for last place with Cal State Northridge, which means the Rainbow Warriors need to win two out of three games at CSUN (13-22, 2-7) this weekend just to stay out of the conference cellar.
That is a good and achievable goal for now, but not the kind of goal they were setting two weeks ago. Even against top conference competition, the expectation should be to win at least one game in each three-game series at home. That is, if Hawaii expects to be a contender.
Being swept three games to zero against the league’s top team on the road is a bit more understandable, but no less harmful in the standings.
The Rainbow Wahine left Manoa at 19-16 and 4-2 in the Big West, and winning at least one game at Long Beach State would have put them at 20-18 and 5-4 coming home, still within striking distance of the league title and/or an NCAA postseason berth.
But the sweep — all three games on ESPN3 — leaves UH at 19-19 and 4-5, tied for fourth place heading into this weekend’s crucial home series vs. Cal Poly (22-16, 4-5). Nothing less than a series victory (two out of three) should be expected if Hawaii is to cling to any realistic hopes of a conference title or NCAA tournament at-large bid.
In perhaps the most glaring example of how “good,” or even “pretty good,” is just not good enough for Hawaii these days, the Rainbow Warriors finished the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation season at 15-12 and 13-11 in league play, but losing their final two matches at Pepperdine last weekend dropped them to ninth place and out of the MPSF playoff picture.
Ironically, this season otherwise proved to be a big improvement for coach Charlie Wade’s program, considering UH went 11-16 and 10-14 in the MPSF last year. But that record was good enough for eighth place and a spot in the league playoffs.
This year, even a much better one is not.
That seems to be a recurrent theme with many, if not most, UH sports these days: The football team showed marked improvement on the field, on the scoreboard and in the offensive stat sheets — but only had a 1-11 record (0-8 in the Mountain West Conference).
The Rainbow Wahine volleyball team went 25-5 but suffered three conference losses and was knocked out of the NCAA tournament in the second round after being swept by Brigham Young at home.
The men’s basketball team went 20-11, 9-7 in the Big West but lost in the first round of conference tournament and failed to receive a postseason berth despite posting the school’s first 20-win season since 2004.
The women’s basketball team went 17-14 and 10-6 in the Big West, but could not get out of the conference semifinals and lost in the first round of the WNIT for the second straight year.
With the exception of football, UH’s marquee sports have had teams this year that deserve to be regarded as “good,” or even “pretty good.” And in the past, “pretty good” might have been enough to earn NCAA postseason berths and contend for conference championships.
But as we saw this weekend, that may no longer be the case.
Across the board, Hawaii’s competition is also “good,” “pretty good” and maybe even “great.” And that means in their coaching, recruiting, talent level, resources, facilities, fan support, fundraising … which means if UH and its fans want to “chase championships,” they need to step up in all those areas as well.
The bar in NCAA Division I keeps rising — will UH rise with it?