Wednesday, January 17, 2001
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Posted on: Wednesday, January 17, 2001

Outrigger Invitational is Warriors' first big test

By Stephen Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer

Sharpen your No. 2 pencils.

Tonight, it is time for the University of Hawaii men’s volleyball team to take its first big test.

While UH’s 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 men’s volleyball championship in 2000. Penn State played in last year’s final four. Laval is one of Canada’s best teams.

What’s more, the event came a signature away from being a tournament of champions. Ohio State, last year’s 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. "That’s 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 I’d rather find out now than later on."

Last week’s 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, you’re going to find things out of a (tournament) match that you won’t ordinarily find out in practice, just because things are going at a higher level," Wilton said.

"Maybe you’ll say, Hey, Joe was a pretty good practice player, but, my gosh, when he’s 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. UCLA’s 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. Laval’s Jerome Leclerc is an accurate and agile setter.

"This is a real quality tournament," Wilton said. "It’s a nice springboard to conference play."

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