Wednesday, January 10, 2001
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Posted on: Wednesday, January 10, 2001

Opposite sides of volleyball net

By Stephen Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer

Tonight’s season-opening volleyball opponents — Lewis and Hawaii — are as different as Romeoville, Ill. and Honolulu.

UH men’s coach Mike Wilton and his opposite number tonight, Lewis’ Dave Deuser, have built national powers with different approaches and budgets. Wilton has won 68 percent of his matches; Deuser 72 percent of his.

Jeff Widener • The Honolulu Advertiser

Lewis, located southwest of Chicago and down the road from a state prison, has an enrollment of 4,100. UH-Manoa’s enrollment (17,263) is greater than Romeoville’s population (16,000).

The Flyers’ volleyball program was started in 1994 as a way to raise money. The 10 or so non-scholarship players on the Lewis roster, the bean counters figured, equated to 10 more tuitions. The Warriors, meanwhile, were only one of two men’s college volleyball teams to turn a profit last year.

Last fall, each Lewis player was asked to sell raffle tickets to help supplement the Flyers’ annual operating budget of $20,000. The Warriors earned $711,000 in ticket revenue last year.

It is on the court where both programs find a common ground. Each is an elite program that has appeared in two of the last six NCAA final four tournaments. Dave Deuser has won 72 percent of his matches at Lewis; UH’s Mike Wilton has a winning percentage of .678 in nine years in volleyball’s toughest conference.

Each roster is a blend of local and international players. What’s more, Lewis outside hitter Jorge Alifonso and setter Jorge Perez played for UH two years ago.

"It should be a good test," Wilton said of the first of two matches in the Stan Sheriff Center. The second will be played Friday night. First serve is at 7 both nights.

Wilton has divided UH’s season into steps, his so-called "goal ladder." In the first month, he is seeking to mesh two newcomers — freshman setter Kimo Tuyay and libero Vernon Podlewski — with four players who started last season. Middle blocker Dejan Miladinovic, who spent last year rehabilitating an injured right shoulder, also is back.

Wilton said the three-game sweep over an all-star alumni team this past Saturday reaffirmed his assessment following fall training camp: That UH is a talented — although not deep — team that has the potential to contend for a national title.

He said the Warriors have displayed good ball control, power from the outside and unity. Under the new rules, which allow lets (serves that continue over the net after hitting the nylon first), the Warriors remain aggressive.

"We’re really serving tough," Wilton said. "That’s not an accident."

Wilton said the team spends 30 minutes of every practice working on serves. Each serve is rated and, at the end of every practice, "punishment" — sprints — are doled to those who fail to earn qualifying scores.

Wilton said the Warriors will need to be at their best against Lewis, a team cloaked in mystery. Three Flyers played last season; UH, of course, is familiar with a fourth, Perez.

"We don’t know a lot about them," Wilton said. "Then again, there are some things they don’t know about us. To be honest, we’re going into this blind."

Deuser is offering few clues, other than the Flyers will remain true to their style: Control the ball, move the offense quickly, hit around — not over — the blocks.

It is a scheme that Deuser has perfected since the beginning, when he was earning $6,000 a year as a part-time head coach. At 35 and now full time (he earns $38,000 annually), Deuser still lives with his parents to save money, but his program has grown to national prominence.

Chicago and its suburbs have provided a rich source of talent. Deuser’s reputation and connections have drawn players from Brazil, Puerto Rico and California.

"Now," Deuser says of the early critics, "they realize our program is for real."

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