Hawai'i sets sights on capturing crown
By Stephen Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer
|"I can't find the words," says Hawai'i's Dejan Miladinovic, driving a shot past Penn State's Norman Keil (13) on Thursday. "A title would be a perfect finish."
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Finally, it was UH coach Mike Wilton's turn.
He thanked the dinner's host, UH president Evan Dobelle, and then promised the more than 50 guests, "No matter what happens, we will give it our best."
The ensuing applause echoed throughout the restaurant, with KCCN sportscaster Scott Robbs then trying to lead a cheer of "Let's go 'Bows!"
"Last week, I said, 'We're going for the big fish,' " UH outside hitter Costas Theocharidis said. "This match isn't a big fish, it's a whale. Everyone has been waiting for this. It's big. Now the time has come for the whole state of Hawai'i and for us. Hopefully, we're going to be ready to deal with the challenge."
The Warriors, who advanced by beating host Penn State in four games Thursday night, are seeking the first men's team championship in the school's history.
"How can I express how much we want this title?" said Serbia-raised Dejan Miladinovic, a senior middle blocker. "I can't find the words. Maybe I could do it in Serbian. A title would be a perfect finish. This will be something to remember forever. I'll definitely have a story to tell my grandchildren over and over. Maybe it will sound silly to them, just as it would if somebody was telling me, 'Oh, yeah, I played 50 years ago.' That would sound silly to me. But right now, in the year 2002, this would be something important."
Waves 3-0 vs. UH this year
Pepperdine, the nation's top-ranked team, won the three meetings between the two programs this season, all in Malibu, Calif. Last week, Pepperdine defeated UH in four games in the title match of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament.
When asked if it would be more difficult to beat a team for the fourth time, Waves coach Marv Dunphy said, "Not really. I don't think the fact that we've beaten them three times is a weight on my shoulder or my team's shoulders.
"This is one match, for the national championship."
Said Miladinovic: "We lost at their place. This time, it will be on a neutral court. There is going to be a difference."
Wilton said the key is to treat this match like any other.
"The team that best comes to grip with that is probably the team that is going to play the best," he said.
For that reason, Wilton did not hesitate in replacing setter Kimo Tuyay and outside hitter Tony Ching in Game 3 against Penn State. Tuyay and Ching will start tonight, but setter Daniel Rasay and outside hitter Jose Delgado will be waiting in the wings. Wilton said even for the final match of the men's season, it is never too late to tinker.
"Check the audit," Wilton said. "No, I don't think you can have hard and fast rules about everything. It's a matter of adjusting, and we have a good history of making that adjustment. (Switching setters in mid-match) was something that needed to be done at the time, and it changed the match."
Wilton said Tuyay, who struggled to identify Penn State's blocking schemes, deserves to start based on his play throughout the season. Wilton said he has confidence in Rasay's ability to provide an immediate fix.
"I know Daniel can come in and locate (sets) well, and sometimes that's all that's needed," Wilton said. "He'll make some pretty OK decisions, actually."
The Waves offer several poisons. All but middle hitter Chris Van Reusen uses a jump serve to pin defenses. In last week's match between the teams, the Waves' powerful serves, particularly from middle hitter Brad Keenan and outside hitter Fred Winters, forced the Warriors to use four passers instead of the usual two or three.
"Marv gives us the green light to serve tough," Pepperdine setter Beau Daniels said. "We have a lot of good arms, and he lets us rip away. I think that's a big part of our weapon. As long as we can keep siding out and siding out, we can go after it with the jump serves."
Daniels, a senior who did not play last season because of an ankle injury, has several options on offense. His favorite is a lead set to Keenan, who likes to take a running start from the middle to the right to launch crossing shots.
Sean Rooney, the nation's Freshman of the Year, is a strong outside hitter. When the Warriors try to cover Rooney and Keenan, that leaves Lance Walker open.
"It's hard to cover everybody," Miladinovic said.
But what has helped the Waves the most is the collective ability to remain calm. The Warriors admittedly thirst for controversy and, indeed, they played their best against Penn State when the home crowd was at full roar. In the last meeting, Dunphy warned his players not to trade taunts with the Warriors.
"I think Hawai'i feeds a lot off the other team getting in (its) face," Daniels said. "They have really fiery players over there. We want to keep the fire on our side and do our thing."
Said Miladinovic: "We look for whatever ignites us. That's our style. If the opposing crowd or team doesn't give us a spark, we'll feed off each other's emotions. Whatever works."