Warrior volleyball team sweeps UC Irvine again
By Stephen Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer
The University of Hawai'i men's volleyball team mastered a 6-foot-8 Rubik's Cube and then 13th-ranked UC Irvine in a 35-33, 30-22, 30-25 victory last night in the Stan Sheriff Center.
Before a crowd of 3,273, the Warriors swept the Anteaters for the second consecutive night to improve to 17-6 overall and 14-4 in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation, remaining in third place with four regular-season matches left.
Pepperdine, which swept top-ranked UCLA last night, moved into first place with a 16-2 MPSF record. UCLA is 15-3. UH plays host to UCLA Friday and Saturday.
"I thought we were very businesslike," UH coach Mike Wilton said. "We had a couple of fadeouts, but after calling timeouts, we were OK."
UH's key adjustment was containing 6-foot-8 Erick Helenihi, who entered the series averaging a team-high 8.2 swings per game. After receiving 12 sets as a middle blocker Friday night, Helenihi opened at opposite last night.
"One of the reasons I play outside is to get me the ball a little more," Helenihi said.
Helenihi pounded 13 kills in 20 swings in the first game, forcing the Warriors to scramble for answers. The Warriors decided to protect against line shots straightaways down the sideline and rotate setter Kimo Tuyay or an outside hitter into the back row as a second digger.
The strategy appeared to work, as Helenihi was blocked twice late in the first game and two times to open the second game.
"They obviously put the ball in his hands," UH outside hitter Eyal Zimet said. "He's a good player, but it's hard to play with only one player. Our block should be appreciated. One player against our block is not going to be enough."
Said Dejan Miladinovic, who assisted on seven of UH's 9.5 blocks: "We ignored, a little bit, the rest of their hitters. The more sets he got, he got tired and started making some errors."
Helenihi said he was not tired, but "I was little streaky. ... I definitely like my line shot when I play outside. They adjusted to it, and I had to make an adjustment, too."
Helenihi finished with 26 kills, but he committed 10 hitting errors and was blocked eight times. "Even if he had 30 kills, it doesn't matter," said Costas Theocharidis, who led UH with 17 kills. "One guy is not going to beat us."
The Warriors also relied on "Operation Dark Jerseys," in which they vowed to serve to anybody but Monte Tucker, who wore the libero's white jersey.
"The libero is, by far, their best passer," Miladinovic said. "We wanted to pass it away from the libero. We knew they weren't a great passing team, and they would have trouble passing to the middle. I think the strategy worked, for the most part."
Despite the match's length, there were several emotional moments, especially after the Warriors fought off game point to rally to win Game 1. Irvine assistant coach Mike D'Allessandro, annoyed with several line calls and the glee exhibited by the Warriors from their rally, argued with the referees as the teams changed sides.
"I don't know what he complained about, but I gave him a look and he started swearing," Miladinovic said. "He came to Hawai'i, and he's been treated like royalty. For him to behave like that, that's just disrespectful. I'm not tolerating that kind of behavior."
Said Irvine coach Charlie Brande: "Yeah, there was an unfortunate exchange. There's always a little bit of resentment when people make plays and smirk under the net and stuff. We didn't handle it as well as we should have, by any means. It's too bad that happened. I hope we didn't tarnish the fabulous experience we always have here. it was a good match, a great crowd and a great atmosphere."