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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, March 1, 2002

USC's gym presents challenge for UH volleyball team

By Stephen Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer

Welcome to volleyball's parallel universe, where the visiting team's living arrangements are more spacious than the gym, and the tallest player is named "Small."

Hawai'i men's volleyball coach Mike Wilton said the Warriors score more points when freshman outside hitter Jose Delgado is in the rotation. Delgado earned the starting job when Tony Ching was injured.

Advertiser library photo • Jan. 18, 2002

"North Gym is a dimly lit living room," said Southern California coach Pat Powers, whose team plays host to Hawai'i today and tomorrow. "It's the exact opposite of what Hawai'i has. A colorful arena, 10,000 seats ... that's not the North Gym."

The gym, which is used by the student body during the day, also is where an 11th-place team, such as the Trojans (5-13 overall, 2-10 in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation), can be a menacing obstacle.

"It's going to be a good challenge," said UH coach Mike Wilton, who spent several hours reviewing videotape of USC matches.

North Gym is nothing like the safe haven of the Stan Sheriff Center. Senior Dejan Miladinovic, who calls it a "matchbox," said he feeds off all the in-your-face heckling.

"It fires me up," he said with a grin.

USC has an imposing block, led by 6-foot-5 Josh Day, a Kamehameha Schools graduate, and 6-11 Phil Small.

Small might be a stomach-growling 210 pounds, but he is 28 pounds heavier than when he first enrolled in September.

"He's getting better and better," Powers said. "Not only is technically a good player, but he wants to be out there. He wants to take charge."

Outside hitter Brook Billings, who once burst a volleyball with a swing, leads the Trojans with 4.7 kills per game. Opposite Beau Rawl, who finally is adjusting to his move from the middle two years ago, has developed into a functional passer.

"We're going to find our groove," Powers said. "It's a matter of when."

The Warriors will be short-handed because of the suspension of outside hitter Tony Ching, who declined to comment yesterday morning. Spectators say he was dropped from the travel roster after arguing with coaches during Tuesday's practice in the Stan Sheriff Center.

Ching is expected to rejoin the team next week.

"There needs to be some discussion, but as far as I know, everything will be OK," said Wilton, who added there was not enough time to replace Ching on the travel roster. The Warriors, who departed Wednesday morning, brought 11 players.

Geronimo "Jo Jo" Chala, who has played sparingly because of knee and ankle injuries, will be used as an emergency non-passing outside hitter, Wilton said.

Ching started the first two matches but missed the next seven because of a muscle tear in the back of his right shoulder. He has yet to reclaim the starting job from freshman Jose Delgado, who is ranked 15th nationally with 1.24 blocks per game.

Wilton said an efficiency system, which evaluates performances in matches and practices, shows the Warriors score more points when Delgado is in the rotation.

"He can do a lot with the ball," Wilton said. "He's crafty. He's almost always going to get a good swing."

In last week's split against Long Beach State, sophomore Kimo Tuyay and redshirt freshman Daniel Rasay alternated at setter. But the platooning has ended, and Wilton declared, "Kimo is our setter. There's no doubt. he's our guy. (Last week's alternating) was circumstantial. Kimo has the ball now. It's the time of the year for him to take it and run with it."

This is the first of three consecutive road trips for the Warriors, who are staying at the Embassy Suites in Los Angeles. Each unit includes a living room and kitchenette. "It's probably better than a lot of dorm rooms at UH," Wilton said.

Today's game marks the halfway point in the season for the Warriors, who see themselves as having improved from January.

"We've had early slip-ups, but it's better to have early slip-ups than later slip-ups," Tuyay said.

Not taking the unranked Trojans lightly, the Warriors know the underdogs always have an advantage.

"They have nothing to lose," Miladinovic said. "They stakes are way higher for us. We have something to prove, too. We have to justify our No. 2 ranking."

NOTES: UH leads the MPSF with a 7-1 record. UCLA (10-2) is second, followed by Pepperdine (8-2) and Brigham Young (9-3) ... UH's Dejan Miladinovic is the nation's top blocker, averaging 1.74 per game ... It won't be entirely home crowd at North Gym this weekend. Tuyay's family and friends will be in attendance.

Advertiser staff writer Catherine E. Toth contributed to this report.