Warriors begin title quest
By Stephen Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. In November, University of Hawai'i men's volleyball coach Mike Wilton brought his team to this college town for two exhibition matches.
Todays games Pepperdine (28-4) vs. Ball State (23-7), noon Hawaii (22-8) vs. Penn State (25-3), 2 p.m. TV: University of Hawaii vs. Penn State will be telecast live at 2 p.m. on OC-16 Radio: Live on KCCN 1420 AM
NCAA volleyball championships
At University Park, Pa.
Pepperdine (28-4) vs. Ball State (23-7), noon
Hawaii (22-8) vs. Penn State (25-3), 2 p.m.
TV: University of Hawaii vs. Penn State will be telecast live at 2 p.m. on OC-16
Radio: Live on KCCN 1420 AM
The future has become the present, and tonight, the Warriors begin the two-step process of claiming the first men's national championship in the school's history. UH faces host Penn State in one semifinal; top-ranked Pepperdine plays Ball State in the other. The nationally televised championship match is Saturday.
Wilton was not discouraged after the Warriors split two-match series against Penn State and Stanford in November, and finished second in the Outrigger Invitational, Mountain Pacific Sports Federation regular season and MPSF tournament. Wilton considered each of those phases as building blocks leading to the NCAA final four.
After a loopy practice Monday night and a fitful one Tuesday morning, the Warriors were at their best yesterday, allowing the cautiously optimistic Wilton to proclaim, "We're ready."
"We've been through so many things this year," UH outside hitter Costas Theocharidis said. "It comes down to this. We're going to give it everything we have and try to win it all."
The Warriors left Honolulu April 23, spending six days in California to play in the MPSF tournament, "but there are no signs of road fatigue," UH outside hitter Tony Ching said. "It's the final four. We can rest during the summer."
UH outside hitter Eyal Zimet, who was raised in Israel, said, "Home for me right now is this court."
The Warriors believe they have addressed several concerns. In the MPSF title match, Pepperdine often served short, to UH's right, forcing Zimet to make the difficult crossing pass to setter Kimo Tuyay. The Spalding ball used for this tournament the three NCAA Division I conferences used the rubber-based Molten ball during their seasons is spongier and more difficult to control on passes. Wilton scheduled two practices early this week to work specifically on adjusting to the Spalding ball.
"It's not going to be a problem," Zimet said.
In the last two matches, Tuyay was pulled after lapses in reading the opposing blockers and for making awkward sets. Tuyay's problems were traced to a technical flaw in which he favored his left hand, causing sets to tilt toward the right. It was a glitch Tuyay believes he has corrected during practices this week.
Tuyay's problems likely led to Theocharidis' recent hitting slump. Theocharidis, who has changed positions twice in the last month, is settled on the left side. He said his play should not be a concern.
"I don't care about my hitting percentage as long as I can help the team win," he said. "I'm focused and I'm going to play as good as I can."
In the final two matches of the regular season, Tuyay tried to set quickly to Theocharidis in an attempt to outrace the blockers. In the MPSF title match, Tuyay set high, believing Theocharidis could use a four-step takeoff and 38-inch vertical leap to soar above the block. A reputed finicky hitter, Theocharidis said yesterday, "Sometimes you have to play fast, sometimes you have to play high. If you don't get the appropriate set, you can't complain. You have to put it away."
Indeed, the Warriors have vowed not to waste their time worrying about manini things.
"We're not one of those schools that goes to the final four six out of 10 times," Tuyay said. "We're not UCLA or schools of that caliber. This opportunity doesn't come very often. We're here and we're going to take full advantage of it. I think I stand for all of the guys when I say we're going to play our hearts out."
Said middle blocker Dejan Miladinovic: "You have one chance, and you have to make the best out of it. My plan is not to have any regrets after this. I'm sure we'll give our best and we'll be able to look in the mirror and say, 'We gave our all.' There will be no regrets."
There were four news conferences yesterday, and ESPN2 sportscasters spent time interviewing the UH players.
"It's starting to feel like a final four," Miladinovic said. "Everything is so official. It feels good. It's unknown territory for us, but I'm confident we'll conquer the territory."
Final four appearances: 2.
Coach: Mike Wilton.
Starters: Dejan Miladinovic (MB, 6-7, Sr., 1.90 bpg), Delano Thomas (MB, 6-7, Fr., 0.85 bpg), Eyal Zimet (Opp., Jr., 2.64 kpg), Costas Theocharidis (OH, 6-2, Jr., 5.49 kpg), Tony Ching (OH, 6-2, Jr., 2.65 kpg), Kimo Tuyay (S, 6-2, So., 1.22 dpg), Vernon Podlewski (L, 5-8, Sr., 2.06 dpg).
PENN STATE NITTANY LIONS
Final four appearances: 17.
Coach: Mark Pavlik.
Starters: Zach Slenker (MH, 6-5, Jr., 3.38 kpg), Norm Keil (MH, 6-9, So. 1.20 bpg), Zeljko Koljesar (Opp., 6-5, Jr., .391 kpg), Carlos Guerra (OH, 6-5, Jr., 4.29 kpg), Jason Hawkins (OH, 6-4, Sr., 2.30 kpg), Jose Quinones (S, 6-3, Sr., 1.28 dpg), Ricky Mattei (L, 5-11, So., 1.98 dpg).
Outlook: The Nittany Lions have been short-handed the entire season after middle hitter John Mills was declared academically ineligible. Mills, who transferred two years ago after San Diego State dropped men's volleyball, was told he lost a year of eligibility because he played for the SDSU club program. His final appeal was rejected last week, a decision the Lions still dispute.
In Mills' absence, Keil has developed into an efficient middle hitter. "He doesn't make mistakes," Pavlik said. "He doesn't take himself out of plays. Norm, mentally, understands his limitations and what he has to do to be successful. He's not going to try out-athlete other middles. He's going to try to be solid with his positioning. He's going to try to become the best read-blocker he can be."
While Koljesar has been steady, Guerra, by his own high expectations, was pressing early in the season. "There were a lot of hitting errors in some stretches," Pavlik said. "The good thing is when we needed him, for the most part, he's been very solid for us. I mean, I'm complaining about a guy who hit .344. It's greed on my part."
Quinones, always a solid setter, has improved his serves and defense. Those areas, Pavlik said, could prove vital in a single-elimination tournament.
"Our guys understand the level of play," Pavlik said. "I'm not sure they understand the level of the game that is needed against Hawai'i. We've been trying to talk through that all year long. I'm not overly worried about the big things. It's the little things. Are we going to make sure we're not the ones to blink in a sideout battle?"
Final four appearances: 11.
Championships: 1978, 1985, 1986, 1992.
Coach: Marv Dunphy.
Starters: Chris Van Reusen (MB, 6-5, 205, Sr., 1.26 bpg), Brad Keenan (MB, 6-8, 210, Jr., 1.86 bpg), Sean Rooney (OH, 6-8, 200, Fr., 4.08 kpg), Lance Walker (OH, 6-5, 205, Sr., 3.36 kpg), Fred Winters (OH, 6-5, 205, So., 3.49 kpg), Beau Daniels (S, 6-4, 180, Sr., 1.29 dpg), Clint Olson (L, 6-2, 180, Sr., 2.18 dpg).
Outlook: The Waves slumped at the end of last season, and without departed outside hitter Scott Wong and setter Keith Barnett, lost to Ball State in a match last fall. Still, Van Reusen said, "We knew we could be really good. Nobody knew about us, but we knew what we could do."
After all, the Waves had seen a sneak preview of Daniels, who suffered ligament damage in his ankle last season. Daniels stepped in and seized control of the offense. He was able to nurture Rooney, the nation's Freshman of the Year, as well as master the difficult maneuver of feeding Keenan, who attacks off a slide step.
"He's brilliant," Van Reusen said of Daniels. "He makes the right set 99 percent of the time. I can't say 100 percent, because nobody's perfect, but he's close. He's really composed. As a setter, you have to be the glue that keeps the team together. I think he does that better than anybody I've played with."
The Waves are aggressive servers, with every starter but Van Reusen using the jump technique. Keenan leads the nation in service ace average (.551).
"They have the green light," Dunphy said. "I tell them, 'Think end line when you hit.' I'd rather they miss by 20 feet than hit into the net."
BALL STATE CARDINALS
Final four appearances: 11.
Coach: Joel Walton.
Starters: Matthew Denmark (MB, 6-8, Jr., 1.18 bpg), Paul Fasshauer (MB, 6-9, Sr., 1.25 bpg), Tom Tegethoff (OH, 6-6, Sr., 2.7 kpg), Jary Delgado (OH, 6-1, So., 3.42 kpg), Kyle Weindel (Opp., 6-8, Jr., 3.74 kpg), Keith Schunzel (S, 6-3, So., 13.89 apg), Doug Market (L, 6-9, Sr., 2.06 dpg).
Outlook: The Cardinals are seeking their first semifinal victory since the NCAA Championships went to the final four format in 1974. The drought and ensuing advice according to Tegethoff, has resulted in heated discussions between the players and alumni.
"I know a lot of people think Pepperdine is going to advance," said Tegethoff, who defiantly told some former players, "I'd like to know a reason why."
The Cardinals are led by two imposing middles Fasshauer, who will train with the national team this summer, and Denmark, who has a 40-inch vertical jump.
Tegethoff is a crafty hitter, and Delgado whose cousin is UH freshman Jose Delgado has emerged as an offensive threat.