UH men's volleyball team expects its 'best season'
By Stephen Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer
The message, written in dark block print on the portable ink board, served as both a greeting and goal for the University of Hawai'i men's volleyball team: "Welcome to the best season."
"We have a nice situation," UH coach Mike Wilton said before yesterday's first practice of training camp.
The Warriors, who open the season Tuesday against Loyola-Chicago, return five starters and a part-time starter from a team that finished one victory from qualifying for the NCAA final four.
Middle blocker Dejan Miladinovic, who earned a bachelor's degree last month and has been accepted into the MBA program, said if UH were a stock, "Definitely buy. It definitely will be a bull market. It's going to be a fun season. We're going to have a good team. I'd say we're going to be better than last season."
Last season, the Warriors were short-circuited by injuries and depth problems. But opposite hitter Eyal Zimet and outside hitter Tony Ching have declared themselves physically fit.
Zimet, the team's best server, had a stress fracture in his left shin. "I worked on strengthening the area around (the injury) and I tried to be smart about it and let it gradually heal," he said. "Hopefully, it won't bother me this season. The pain went away for now."
The right-handed Ching, who split time with departed Torry Tukuafu last season, underwent surgery to repair ligament problems in his hitting shoulder.
"Tony's in the lineup right now," Wilton said. "It's his job to lose."
Freshman Jose Delgado is expected to serve as the top understudy to Ching, Zimet and the team's most productive player, All-America outside hitter Costas Theocharidis.
Although Brenton Davis completed his eligibility last May, the Warriors added three middle blockers to team with Miladinovic. Delano Thomas, a 6-foot-7 freshman from San Diego, is expected to start. UH also will receive a boost from 6-foot-5 Brian Nordberg, a transfer from UC Santa Barbara, where he was 10th nationally in hitting percentage (.437) last season.
Middle blocker Geronimo "Jo Jo" Chala, who redshirted last season, will be part of the mix. Chala suffered a broken fibula and tibia near his right ankle in September. He underwent surgery, during which a plate and five screws were inserted above the right ankle and two screws were placed near his right foot. He wore a hard cast for three weeks and a walking cast for a month.
Although ordered not to run or jump for another month, "I kind of went behind the doctor's back and played a little beach volleyball," Chala said. "From there, they said, 'If you're playing with no pain, you might as well go ahead and play.'"
Even without the additions, Theocharidis said, "as usual, we have a good team. We have great talent and great potential."
Theocharidis, who tired near the end of last season, improved his strength during the offseason. Sophomore setter Kimo Tuyay also added bulk.
"We have a lot of guys who want it so bad this year," Tuyay said. "This will be a good year for us."