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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, December 31, 2002

Warriors get reacquainted, reorganized

By Stephen Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer

Senior Tony Ching, front, and the University of Hawai'i men's volleyball team began training camp yesterday.

Eugene Tanner • The Honolulu Advertiser

They hugged, joked, hugged some more and traded updates.

Has it really been only 11 days since the University of Hawai'i men's volleyball players last saw one another?

Yet, the first minutes of yesterday's opening of training camp was a cheerful reunion.

Middle blocker Josh Stanhiser showed off his spiked flat-top 'do. "That's Drago," said setter Daniel Rasay of Stanhiser, comparing him to the "Rocky IV" character.

As middle blocker Delano Thomas spoke, he revealed his newly pierced tongue, a result of listening to Rasay's dare.

"He's my inspiration," Thomas said, pointing toward Rasay. "He said to do it. I tried it out."

"It's called peer pressure," Rasay said. "Everybody wants to fit in. We tell them what they have to do to fit in."

"You can't understand what he's saying, anyway," outside hitter Costas Theocharidis mumbled. "I don't care, anyway, as long as he plays well on the court."

Tony Ching, a senior outside hitter, observed: "What made last year's team so great was we were really close friends. That's what got us over the hump. This year, we're a bunch of new guys and a bunch of old guys. We're trying to find that chemistry to blend the two groups together. So far, it's been pretty good. We're almost like a family again."

The Warriors lost two paternal figures from last season's national championship team — 27-year-olds Dejan Miladinovic, a middle blocker, and libero Vernon Podlewski — but added a 6-foot-10 transfer from the UH basketball team (Stanhiser), Brazil's top Junior National player (freshman outside hitter Pedro Azenha) and two accurate passers who could play libero or on the outside (Matt Motter and Arri Jeschke).

Stanhiser, who will succeed Miladinovic while Brian Nordberg recovers from shoulder surgery, has progressed as a blocker while trying to learn to read opposing setters. "I don't really feel any pressure because the best I can do is try my best," Stanhiser said.

But Rasay noted, "You can't teach 6-10. He's going to be good."

Rasay praised Azenha, who will sit out the first four matches because of his participation in an international tournament. Azenha can play the three outside positions, and is expected to serve as the understudy to starters Theocharidis, Ching and Eyal Zimet.

"I like the responsibility to lead this team (in 2004)," Azenha said. "I know that Costas, Tony and Eyal have been doing this for the past three years, and I'm learning from them."

Rasay said: "Pedro is going to be a stud."

Kimo Tuyay, the starting setter, said there is added pressure for the Warriors to defend their title. "We have to work harder this year to be where we were last year because everybody will be gunning for us," he said.

Still, the Warriors believe they have made the proper initial steps. In returning to UH for his senior season, Theocharidis turned down chances to play professionally in Europe.

"I felt my education was a bigger priority than staying back home (in Greece) and playing professionally," said Theocharidis, who is scheduled to earn a business degree next December. "I worked hard these (past) three years. I want to finish strong and start a professional career."

Theocharidis, the national Player of the Year in 2001, said he worked on improving his passing, often practicing by himself.

"All players like spiking, spiking, spiking," he said. "When you get older, you realize spiking is not the most important aspect. Digging, blocking and passing — without those things, you cannot win games."

Theocharidis also said he believes the Warriors bonded during last month's eight-day trip to Shanghai. During fall camp, they settled on a tentative lineup — Thomas and Stanhiser in the middle; Theocharidis, Ching and Zimet on the outside; Tuyay at setter, and either Motter or Jeschke at libero — and new goals.

"We're not really thinking of defending our title," Rasay said. "We're thinking of winning a whole new one. We were champions for how long the offseason was. Once you come back, you're not champions anymore. It's a new season. We look at the championship as history. It's a trophy. We have to win another one."