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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, September 6, 2003

Ruling surprises students

By Will Hoover
Advertiser Staff Writer

University of Hawai'i students were caught off guard by word yesterday that the NCAA had stripped the Warriors of the 2002 men's national volleyball championship because of use of an ineligible player.

"I'm a little surprised," said senior Luke Sasaki moments after university officials announced the NCAA decision.

Sasaki wasn't sure how his fellow students would react, but said, "UH is a tight-knit community. We generally support our players."

Mostly, students expressed more sorrow than anger at the NCAA move. Some said they were concerned that the decision might hamper the university's volleyball program, although few students blamed the student in question — outside hitter and All-American Costas Theochar-idis, who led the Warriors to the national title.

Theocharidis was an ineligible player on the 2002 team because he had played with a professional volleyball team in Europe, a secondary infraction according to NCAA rules.

Theocharidis remains a student at UH although he completed his senior season as an athlete this past May.

"I don't know the details," said senior Jizelle Yates, 20, a UH soccer player and avid sports fan. "I just know he was supposed to have played semi-pro. I don't know if he consciously knew. But, it's a rule. So, you've got to be penalized. As an athlete you're supposed to know all the rules. But the fact is, there are thousands.

"Yes, I'm angry about this, in the sense that this was such a big accomplishment. This was the first time in our school's history for men. And to have that taken away for something that some might consider petty, yeah, some people are going to definitely be disappointed and angry."

Yates called the NCAA ruling "harsh."

Stacey Porter, a 21-year-old senior from Australia, agreed that the NCAA decision appeared to be extreme. She said winning the national championship brought excitement and pride to everyone at the university, and to lose the title this way was a setback.

"I'm not mad at the player," said Porter, who plays softball for UH. "He's only one player on the team. They can take that win away, but the team knows they did it."

Over at the Paradise Palms cafeteria, next to UH's Hamilton Library, Jacob Arneson, 22, Matt Wanink, 20, and Jason Campbell, 21, tried to sort out the implications of losing a national title while they ate lunch.

"I hope this doesn't ruin the integrity of the program," said Campbell.

"This could hurt all athletes at UH," said Wanink. "A lot of the athletes in all sports here are foreign. Whoever is in charge of recruiting eligibility may be at fault."

UH officials said they did not know it was playing with an ineligible player in 2002 until this past June.

One student directly affected by the decision was junior Jose Delgado, 19, of Puerto Rico, who is a member of the volleyball team.

"Losing the trophy and banners and all that is disappointing," he said. "But whatever happens, I support my teammates 100 percent. We all go in together. We all win together. We all lose together.

"They can take the title away. But they can't take away the experience."

Reach Will Hoover at whoover@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8038.