UH reaches MPSF final
By Sean Ceglinsky
Special to The Advertiser
MALIBU, Calif. Perhaps this is the year Hawai'i captures that elusive NCAA men's volleyball championship.
Hawai'i's Dejan Miladinovic, right, roofed a spike from UC Santa Barbara's Jan Carlo Zegarra in last night's match.
UH (22-7 overall) will attempt to win its first MPSF title 4 p.m. tomorrow Hawai'i time when it faces top-ranked Pepperdine (27-4). Pepperdine beat No. 3 BYU, 30-26, 30-25, 22-30, 30-25.
Both teams likely will earn berths in the four-team NCAA Championships May 2 and 4 at Penn State's Recreation Hall. The MPSF winner gets an automatic berth; the MPSF runner-up likely will receive an at-large bid.
UH advanced to the NCAA final four in 1995 and 1996, finishing second to UCLA in 1996.
"There's people that will argue that we were in regardless of what happened tonight," UH coach Mike Wilton said. "You have to look at seeding; you've got to look at national ranking and you've got to look at overall record. But anytime things are determined by a committee, it's subject to human decision. To me, it's a no-brainer."
Senior libero Vernon Podlewski likes UH's chances.
"We're a good passing team, and we have a great serving team as well. Some guys can bring heat, but we move the ball around and switch things crosscourt. We're balanced and that's the key. We came through tonight, especially in the fourth game. We know we can go a long ways in the playoffs, but we need to win Saturday first. Then we'll see what happens, but I really think this is our year.'"
It didn't look that way at the start.
UCSB jumped out to a 10-5 lead in the first game. But after a time out, a kill by Costas Theocharidis gave UH some momentum. Dejan Miladinovic fueled the flow with three stuff blocks as the Warriors cut the deficit to 10-9.
UH took its first lead, 13-12 on a kill by Tony Ching. The teams exchanged unforced hitting errors and UH eventually pulled away as setter Kimo Tuyay served the game's final two points for a 30-27 win.
Theocharidis and Eyal Zimet each had five kills in the first game.
UCSB's Michael Kennedy and Ben Koski were a force at the net in Game 2. The tandem helped UCSB jump to a 5-3 lead and the Gauchos increased it to 15-11 behind the big swings of Andy Rivera, who had eight kills in Game 2. UH tied the game at 29 on mishit by Jan Carlo Zegarra but ultimately lost on a service ace by Nathan Wack.
UH freshman Jose Delgado, who had his career-best match (19 kills) against these Gauchos on March 12, provided a spark in the crucial third game.
His three kills put UH up 11-8 and his back-to back kills gave the Warriors a 16-12 advantage that they would never relinquish. Fittingly, Delgado's kill sealed the 31-29 win in Game 3.
"We had guys that we could put in that did their job," Wilton said. "Jose came in and gave us some nice swings on the ball and a lot of offense. He did a nice job."
In the deciding fourth game, Miladinovic held his serve as UH controlled the tempo and got three kills from Zimet, three from Delgado and five from Theocharidis.
Delgado finished with 11 kills, which was indicative of the all-around team effort. Zimet also had 11 kills, Miladinovic had seven kills and Delano Thomas added nine.
"Miladinovic's serve was great," Wilton said. "Teams normally score at a higher rate when he serves but he was hitting his jumper in some nice spots tonight. And Delano Thomas did a great job, too. I'm glad we had all these guys step up because Theocharidis didn't have his typical night."
Perhaps not, but Theocharidis, last season's national Player of the Year, did tally a team-high 21 kills,
"I think our subs did great tonight," Theocharidis said. "Delgado came in and gave an All-American effort. Miladinovic had some long serving streaks. We didn't play really well and we didn't execute the way we can. But we won and that's all that really matters."
Nobody is happier than Wilton, who in his 10th season at UH is 191-86 and the program's all-time winningest coach.
And now with the Warriors a step closer, Wilton is pleased, but he's not overlooking Pepperdine, which beat UH twice this season.
"We want to be MPSF champs," he said. "That's our goal. After we get past Saturday's game, we'll take a look at the NCAA championship tournament."