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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, April 14, 2002

BYU recovers to sweep UH

By Stephen Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer

Here's another reason University of Hawai'i fans dislike Brigham Young: The Cougars are party-poopers.

Eyal Zimet was on the mark on this pass, but Hawai'i didn't do much else right against Brigham Young.

Jeff Widener • The Honolulu Advertiser

Last night, the Warriors staged an elaborate sendoff for senior volleyball players Dejan Miladinovic and Vernon Podlewski. Instead, it was the Cougars who celebrated with a 30-27, 30-28, 30-27 victory in the Stan Sheriff Center.

An announced crowd of 5,916 — there appeared to be more than 7,000 in the arena — watched as the Cougars finished the regular season in fourth place and earned the right to serve as first-round host for this weekend's Mountain Pacific Sports Federation playoffs. Only the top four teams open the playoffs at home.

The Warriors, who finished the regular season 20-7 overall and 17-5 in the MPSF, already had clinched the No. 2 seed with Friday night's sweep of BYU. Still, the Warriors, who will play host to Long Beach State Saturday, had wanted to provide a memorable parting gift on "Senior Night."

"We didn't have it," UH coach Mike Wilton said. "It wasn't happening. Who knows what the reasons were. It looked like we stayed out and danced all night. We were a step slow. There was no cognition. We knew (the Cougars) were going to play better because their backs were against the wall. It was huge for them. We just struggled."

If the Warriors can use the loss as motivation, Wilton offered, "It could be good for us. It could be a silver lining."

But the Warriors tarnished a golden opportunity to enter the playoffs with momentum — they had won their five previous matches — and claim sole possession of second place, a significant advantage when it comes to selecting the at-large berth for the NCAA final four. UH and UCLA finished tied for second in the MPSF, but the Warriors earn the higher seed based on last week's series sweep.

"I don't think any team wants to go out like the way we did," UH outside hitter Eyal Zimet said.

The Warriors appeared to be in control, leading 27-25 in the first game. But then they imploded. Mike Wall hammered a crossing shot, and then the Cougars tied it when UH's Costas Theocharidis, playing in the back row, trespassed the 3-meter line on a kill attempt. A net violation on UH setter Kimo Tuyay and consecutive BYU blocks brought Game 1 to a stunning conclusion.

"That sucks the air out of you when people come back like that," Tuyay said. "Usually, we want to do that. They did it to us. They played harder than we did."

Said Theocharidis: "The first game was the whole match. We seemed to be really flat and really tired."

During the break between the first and second games, Wilton implored his team to fight through the blues. But "Big Blue," as the Cougars refer to themselves, proved to be a huge obstacle.

Friday night, the Cougars tried to force the offense to the outside, a strategy that produced disastrous results when the Warriors were able to plant their block. Last night, after being fed a steady diet of accurate passes, setter Carlos Moreno was able to distribute sets to the outside (Wall hammered 20 kills) and middle (Chris Gorney had 12 kills in 18 swings).

"We had much better passes, and we were more focused," Moreno said. "We came in with more confidence."

In the previous two matches, the Warriors balanced their attack by moving Theocharidis to opposite, where he swings from the right side during five rotations, and positioning Tony Ching at Theocharidis' usual spot on the left side. But neither was able to effectively attack the Cougars' double and triple blocks, and out of desperation, Tuyay often went to Miladinovic. While Miladinovic put down a season-high 14 kills, "Improv at the Sheriff" proved to be a bust.

"I think we were waiting for somebody to step up," Podlewski said. "Nobody did."

Theocharidis, who finished with 15 kills, said, "We didn't execute the way we can execute. I think they were more motivated than us. They were playing for their lives."

Said Tuyay: "It wasn't our night. We made mistakes. I take full responsibility for the mistakes. I don't think I was doing as much as I should have. They played hard, they played well, and I think they wanted it more than we did."

After the match, a tribute video was shown on the scoreboard monitors. Then Miladinovic and Podlewski, decked with lei and emotion — "I got more leis tonight than at my high school graduation," Podlewski said — prepared to greet fans. But first, Miladinovic told Podlewski, "Let's say thanks to the team. The team always comes first."

Theocharidis, who watched Podlewski and Miladinovic take their senior walk, said, "We really wanted to win. It would have been respect for these two guys who contributed so much to this program. They deserved a better ending."

Then Theocharidis said, "We owe them one. I guess next week will be 'Senior Night' for them."

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