Wednesday, January 31, 2001
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Posted on: Wednesday, January 31, 2001

Podlewski's play symbolizes UH's stingy defense

By Stephen Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer

His body is bruised and lumpy, not unlike a week-old mango, and he can’t 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 scorer’s table for saves during long rallies.

"It hurts even more because I’m 24," Podlewski said, smiling.

But as Podlewski goes, so goes the UH men’s 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.

"I’ll do anything to keep the ball from hitting the floor," said Podlewski, whose painful hip flexor prevents him from turning without grimacing. "That’s my job."

In volleyball’s freeway system, in which a player can leave a team and then play for another the next season, Podlewski almost became a member of tonight’s 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. "I’m 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 Podlewski’s 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 it’s 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.

"They’re real tenacious," UH coach Mike Wilton said. "They come at you from a lot of different directions. They’re going to be a real challenge."

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