UH sweeps No. 2 UCLA
By Stephen Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer
Wile E. Coyote trapped the Roadrunner, Charlie Brown kicked the football and, proving anything is possible, the University of Hawai'i men's volleyball team completed a regular-season sweep of second-ranked UCLA last night.
Jeff Widener The Honolulu Advertiser
In addition to his 11 kills, UH outside hitter Tony Ching also played defense in helping the Warriors sweep UCLA.
Jeff Widener The Honolulu Advertiser
It was the Warriors' first three-game victory over the Bruins since March 21, 1998 and their second series sweep in the rivalry's 20-year history.
"I can retire now," UH's Costas Theocharidis said.
The Warriors improved to 19-6 overall and 16-4 in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation, vaulting into second place ahead of UCLA (23-6, 15-5) and securing a host's berth for the opening round of the MPSF playoffs. Pepperdine clinched the playoffs' top seed with a victory over UC Santa Barbara last night.
The Bruins played without injured outside hitter Jona-than Acosta, the team's kill leader, and quick hitter Scott Morrow, their best defensive middle.
"We did the best we could with what we had," UCLA coach Al Scates said. "We're not an elite team with those two guys missing, and that's the bottom line."
Still, the Warriors were convinced the uniform makes the man, and UH outside hitter Tony Ching said, "Whenever we see the blue and gold across the net, we know it's going to be a good match."
Said Theocharidis: "UCLA's second-string lineup is as good as the first one. UCLA is always a big power. They have the best talent in the United States. What more can I say?"
Besides, UH middle blocker Dejan Miladinovic said, "We haven't always had our full personnel. Sometimes we've played without two starters. Maybe UCLA was Acosta-less, but I don't care. So you know what? Tough. That's the league."
The Warriors made a subtle lineup change, moving Theocharidis to opposite hitter and starting Ching at Theocharidis' usual spot at left-side hitter. The opposite is designed to receive five rotation turns on the right side; at outside hitter, Theocharidis is positioned on the left side at least three times.
After Theocharidis took 63 swings in Friday night's victory, UH coach Mike Wilton figured the UCLA coaches were "going to spend a lot of time and energy making a game plan with Costas playing where he usually does. We wanted to see if the move would work. If it didn't fly, we could always switch back."
The move forced Kimo Tuyay, who is more comfortable setting to the left side, to spread the offense. While Theocharidis slammed a match-high 14 kills, Ching and middle blocker Delano Thomas each had 11 kills.
"It was nice to play Costas' spot," Ching said.
Said Theocharidis: "I hit way too many balls (Friday) night. It was time to spread it out. Tony played well. Everybody played well."
The Bruins also revised their strategy. They opened with 6-foot-3 setter Jimmy Sepulveda at middle blocker in place of 6-8 Paul Johnson, in an attempt to bolster their defense. They moved outside hitter Matt Komer away from the baseline, hoping to narrow the Warriors' hitting lanes.
But after the Bruins' first two serves failed to clear the net, Sepulveda was sent to the bench, Johnson was summoned and Scates faced a long night.
UCLA quick-hitter Chris Pena, an inspiration leader in charge of calling out the signals, did not start in the first two games. Pena's left thumb was heavily wrapped, but he said he was not injured. "I'm fine," he said. "I don't know what the deal is."
Scates said he wanted to experiment with freshman David Russell, who played outside hitter Friday, in the middle. With no chance to earn the top seed, Scates said, the timing was appropriate.
"With Morrow injured, I wanted to see if he could play there," Scates said. "This is a good time to see. I don't want to start using him in single elimination without using him in a big match first. I played all of my freshmen. I have to know what they can do, just in case one of my two starters doesn't return."
In turn, the Warriors believe they have made the right adjustments for the playoffs. Thomas, who missed six matches last month to focus on academics, made one hitting error in 32 swings during this series and teamed with Miladinovic to control the net. Thomas also has been the Warriors' most productive server.
Ching proved to be a versatile hitter. He replaced Jose Delgado at opposite Friday and hit .389 last night. Ching, who has fully recovered from an early season shoulder injury, shook off the pain after landing awkwardly on his right elbow in Game 3 to finish the match.
"We worked really hard for this," Ching said. "I wanted to stay out there no matter how sore I was. I was going to be out there at the end. I wanted to be on the court when we beat UCLA."
Hawaii plays host to Brigham Young Friday and Saturday in the final regular-season series of the year.