By Stephen Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer
Sharpen your No. 2 pencils.
Tonight, it is time for the University of Hawaii mens volleyball team to take its first big test.
While UHs two-match sweep of Lewis opened the season last week, the real evaluation begins with the three-night Outrigger Hotels Invitational.
This is indeed a four-star tournament. UCLA won its 18th NCAA mens volleyball championship in 2000. Penn State played in last years final four. Laval is one of Canadas best teams.
Whats more, the event came a signature away from being a tournament of champions. Ohio State, last years Midwest champion and an NCAA finalist, turned down an invitation, citing a scheduling conflict.
The second choice, Ball State, also could not find the time on its Day Planner.
"We had to scramble," UH coach Mike Wilton said, noting participating teams receive free lodging from Outrigger and enough of a guarantee to cover the cost of discounted airfares.
"All they have to do is feed themselves and rent some vans," Wilton said. "Thats pretty sweet."
Wilton said Laval, which has a standing invitation, agreed to fill the puka. All matches against Laval are exhibitions.
Wilton, the schedule maker, said he likes to stack the tournament with the best teams from the three volleyball regions. The round-robin format, he said, maximizes the schedule.
Also, he said, "We want to play good teams early and find out things Id rather find out now than later on."
Last weeks matches, Wilton said, addressed some concerns. Two newcomers freshman setter Kimo Tuyay and libero Vernon Podlewski played well before small crowds. Wilton used eight players in both matches, a rotation that should remain intact for a while. Middle blocker Geronimo Chala, who should provide relief eventually, is awaiting eligibility clearance.
Wilton said the intensity of this tournament will serve as a barometer.
"From that standpoint, youre going to find things out of a (tournament) match that you wont ordinarily find out in practice, just because things are going at a higher level," Wilton said.
"Maybe youll say, Hey, Joe was a pretty good practice player, but, my gosh, when hes out there with the camera lights on and everybody there watching, he struggled. Maybe there are certain things we can do differently. "
Penn State, UCLA and Laval also provide different poisons. Penn State has an imposing block of 6-foot-9 John Mills and 6-5 Zach Slenker. UCLAs 6-foot-10 Adam Naeve, who is back after a year with the national team, and 6-7 Mark Williams are a powerful inside-outside threat. Lavals Jerome Leclerc is an accurate and agile setter.
"This is a real quality tournament," Wilton said. "Its a nice springboard to conference play."
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