Thursday, January 25, 2001
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Posted on: Thursday, January 25, 2001

Warriors play in nation's toughest volleyball league

By Stephen Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer

Only in the parallel universe of men’s college volleyball is it possible for the regular season to be more challenging than the final four.

But the powers of volleyball did not create things equally and, in fact, the balance of strength is tilted decidedly to the left.

The top eight teams in this week’s USA Today/AVCA Coaches poll are from the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation, including No. 7 Hawaii.

Only one school east of the Rocky Mountains, Penn State, in 1994, has won an NCAA men’s title.

"Many a time," UH coach Mike Wilton said, "I’ve watched or participated in the (MPSF) semifinals and thought, Well, this is going to be much tougher than the final four.’"

Wilton said a final four — which matches teams from the three geographical regions, including a wildcard (usually another MPSF team) — will have "two or maybe three great teams. But the (MPSF) semifinals will always have four great teams. You can count on it."

That is why the Warriors consider tonight’s MPSF opener against Pacific to be the start of the real season.

The Warriors (4-1) used the two-match series against Lewis and last week’s Outrigger Hotels Invitational as practice rounds for the MPSF season. What they found, especially in a five-game loss to 18-time NCAA champion UCLA, is they are indeed very talented.

Brenton Davis and Dejan Miladinovic compose one of the best middles in the sport. Costas Theocharidis, despite an injured right arm, has avoided a sophomore slump and remains as one of the country’s best outside hitters. And freshman setter Kimo Tuyay and libero Vernon Podlewski have made the easy transition to Division I.

"The team has a lot of heart and a lot of character," Wilton said.

The Warriors also play with a lot of emotion — too much, perhaps, and Wilton is trying to control passion without limiting their aggressiveness. The number of service errors, Wilton said, is an indication of players "trying too hard, and there is such a thing as trying too dang hard."

The Warriors also must hope that eight players are enough. Tony Ching offers depth at the three outside positions, despite struggling at opposite against UCLA, and he also can serve as a second defensive specialist.

But UH is playing without a safety net at middle blocker. Geronimo Chala still is awaiting clearance to play. Wilton said Chala has met his academic requirements, but "we’re waiting for the paper march to conclude. He is going to be eligible soon."

Middle blocker Rob Drew has withdrawn from school and will spend the semester recuperating from colon surgery at his home in San Diego.

Drew, who had suffered from a severe case of colitis, underwent surgery to remove his infected colon last summer. The 6-foot-8 Drew lost nearly 90 pounds, and now weighs 158.

"He’s not playing volleyball anytime soon," Wilton said. "We’re hopeful he’ll be back with us in the fall."

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