First Wahine volleyball team overcame injuries to reach National Finals

These were the results of the first ever UH women’s volleyball season, in 1974. (Courtesy UH Women’s Volleyball Media Guide)

The University of Hawai’i women’s volleyball team makes its 28th straight NCAA Tournament appearance in Seattle on Friday against No. 23-ranked Mississippi State, which finally punched its first postseason ticket after 47 seasons of program existence.

By total contrast, the Rainbow Wahine’s first ever national bid came in their first ever season, ironically 47 years ago.

The year was 1974, and — believe it or not — the team was not coached by Dave Shoji but by a Mid-Pacific Institute and UH graduate named Alan Kang.

The Rainbow Wahines’ (still had the “s” back then) “regular season” consisted mostly of matches against local clubs, plus one victory each against UH-Hilo and Brigham Young-Hawai’i.

That was enough to earn a bid to the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women championship tournament at Portland State’s gym (yes, gym) from Dec. 12-14. In those days, shortly after the passage of Title IX, women’s college sports fell under the AIAW and not the NCAA. Hard to imagine such a classification today.

And unlike the current 64-team bracket, the 1974 version included only 24 teams, separated into four pools.

Besides the trip across the ocean, the Rainbow Wahines were depth-challenged, taking only nine players on the journey. According to The Honolulu Advertiser, Zelda Lainaholo was sidelined by an emergency operation and had to stay back home.

UH nevertheless made it through the first day by sweeping past Southwest Missouri State (15-4, 15-8), UC Riverside (15-5, 15-8) and Maryland (15-3, 15-4).

But then the nine-person roster was reduced to seven (!) after Artie Smith and Georgiana Hanohano were injured. That left remaining players Beth McLachlin, Joyce Kapua’ala, Joey Akeo, Marilyn Moniz, Linda Fernandez, Heidi Hemmings and Kathy Hollinger to assume the role of “Iron Women” for the rest of the tournament. Remember, there also was no libero back then.

Even very short-handed, the Rainbow Wahines survived Day 2 by defeating Cleveland State 15-0, 14-12 (time limit), Houston 15-13, 8-15, 15-5 and then Texas-San Antonio 15-9, 15-4, to advance to Saturday’s semifinal match against favored UC Santa Barbara.

Hawai’i then upset the Gauchos, 15-11, 15-9 to reach the national championship match against unbeaten and No. 1-ranked UCLA.

Alas, the Bruins prevailed, 15-7, 15-8 and the Rainbow Wahines ended their first season at 9-1.

“We played beautifully considering we had our back against the wall with all the injuries,” UH women’s athletic director Donnis Thompson told The Advertiser.

It was indeed a short but sensational debut season for a Rainbow Wahines program that would reach greater heights in the decades to follow. So as we celebrate yet another postseason appearance that has become the norm, Hawai’i fans should never forget those inspiring women who laid the foundation and represented the school so admirably from the very beginning.

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