By Stephen Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer
His body is bruised and lumpy, not unlike a week-old mango, and he cant lay down to sleep without a pillow of ice.
"Sometimes," Hawaii volleyball player Vernon Podlewski said, "it hurts all over."
It aches even when he smiles which is often after so many floor-burns suffered while racing into the scorers table for saves during long rallies.
"It hurts even more because Im 24," Podlewski said, smiling.
But as Podlewski goes, so goes the UH mens volleyball team. This season, Podlewski, who plays the defensive-specialist position known as libero, has become the Warriors mettle of honor.
He has symbolized a defense that defiantly relinquishes points with Ravenlike stinginess.
"Ill do anything to keep the ball from hitting the floor," said Podlewski, whose painful hip flexor prevents him from turning without grimacing. "Thats my job."
In volleyballs freeway system, in which a player can leave a team and then play for another the next season, Podlewski almost became a member of tonights UH opponent, UC Santa Barbara.
Last year, Podlewski, who attended Santa Barbara City College, was courted by the Gauchos.
"We talked about what my options were going to be," Podlewski said.
In the end, Podlewski, who was raised in Makawao, decided to return to the Islands, joining UH as a nonscholarship player earlier this month. He is paying his own tuition.
"I made a good choice," he said. "Im glad I came here."
So, too, are the Warriors, who are 5-1 and ranked No. 7 nationally.
The Warriors have followed the 5-foot-6 Podlewskis lead, battling against taller opponents and scrambling to overcome injuries and illnesses.
For the Warriors, matches tonight and Friday night against No. 5 UC Santa Barbara, are must-seize opportunities to make statements.
"I believe its up to us," UH outside hitter Costas Theocharidis said.
For the first time this season, the Warriors are whole, with Theocharidis, middle blocker Brenton Davis and opposite Torry Tukuafu fully recovered from the flu. They have had strong practices this week.
But it is not known if being good is good enough against the Gauchos. The Gauchos have a strong middle (Anders Bengstsson has one error in 38 swings), and their perimeter hitters (opposite Ben Koski and outside hitters Andy Rivera and Dave Kohl) are among the most efficient in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation.
"Theyre real tenacious," UH coach Mike Wilton said. "They come at you from a lot of different directions. Theyre going to be a real challenge."
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